Rotterdam is currently playing in the intimate setting of Trafalgar 2 Studios following its world premiere at Theatre503 in October 2015. I feel that this piece is an important play which, looks at labelling, how we label ourselves, how we label others in society and how labelling can affect our relationships with others. This is investigated through a network of complex relationships performed by a very talented cast of four: Alice McCarthy, Anna Martine, Jessica Clark and Ed Eales-White.
The premise of the play is quite simple: Alice is a woman, Alice is gay, Alice is in love with Fiona. Fiona is a woman, Fiona presents as a gay woman however, Fiona knows that although assigned female at birth her gender identity is that of a man – Adrian. Adrian Loves Alice. If Alice loves Adrian back does this make her straight? a “Hasbien? !”
When I arrived in the theatre the action was already taking place; loud Euro Pop music was booming from the speakers and each of the 4 characters appear on set, preparing for their evening’s activities. It’s the eve of New Year’s Eve. We’re in Rotterdam, a port, a transient place where people go when they’re in transition, moving on or through, but, as the Beautiful South’s song goes, “it could be Rotterdam, or anywhere”.
Alice is re-drafting a letter to her parents back home in the UK, she is finally “coming out” and wants to let her family know she is in love with a woman called Fiona. It’s been a fabulous 7 years and she wants to share her happiness with them and no longer remain in the closet.
What follows is a powerful two hours of emotive drama, fireworks (actual fireworks, as well as metaphorical), a contemporary and rather fabulous soundtrack, heartfelt exchanges between all four of our protagonists, perfect comedic timing demanding belly laughs from the audience, as well as tear-jerking and heart wrenching moments that brought a tear to the eyes.
Due to the size of the black box theatre, the staging of the show has to be compact, this does not cause problems for the production, their creative team have built a very versatile set with multipurpose movable furniture, limited props and a cupboard doubling up as door ( I love the moment when Alice, Alice McCarthy, physically walks out of the closet to find freedom with her new found best friend Lelani, Jessica Clark, on the frozen lake). Movement is slick, the scene changes are choreographed beautifully and the director has tableau scenes playing simultaneously with live action producing the perfect juxtaposition. All in all the lighting, sound, movement, costume and set design all marry together to add huge value to the performance.
All four cast members are fabulous, Jessica Clark delivers a convincing Dutch hedonistic millennial who is embracing every element of pleasure seeking and self-satisfaction, she is quirky and charming and when her character faces turmoil in act two, Clark’s break down is painful to watch. She also gets to wear some fabulous glittery lipstick and sequined silver trousers!
Ed Eales-White plays Josh, a devoted brother, best friend and gracious ex who is charming, affectionate and warm. Josh’s character is instantly likeable, the underdog we like to laugh at and want to go to the pub with. He hits the mark with his execution, never over playing his part, instead working in partnership with the rest of the team.
Alice is played by Alice McCarthy, an uptight, passive aggressive who is trying to be polite whilst her insides are breaking. She is gay, this is what defines her, she is also in love with someone who needs to change in order to love themselves. McCarthy gets the balance just right between comedy and pathos. Watching her loosening up after trying drugs for the first time is brilliant. In Alice we see someone at the edge, trying to hold it all together and wrestling with the “right thing to do”. A complex and satisfying performance to watch.
Finally, there is Anna Martine’s portrayal of Fiona/Adrian. I could wax lyrical about Martine’s performance for hours. Her physical as well as her mental transformation from Fiona to Adrian is subtle and very effective to watch. Her comic timing should be applauded. Martine is able to accurately externalise the internal pain her character is feeling, the distress, the anger, the love and the confusion. Being so close to the performance space in this venue means you can look directly in to her eyes and see her heart breaking.
Towards the end of Act 2 we see Adrian at his lowest, Martine’s execution of this part of the script is so powerful, I will not forget the look of him in a dress staring at himself in the mirror for a long time. As an audience member we are routing for Adrian. To me, her performance was faultless. Bravo
To be honest, I can’t recall many representation of lesbian couples in the mainstream media, I can list the lesbian characters Maggie and Beth in Brookside and Coronation Street’s Kate and Caz. I can think of various films where male to female transition is explored, however I can only recall Hillary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry as a vehicle to bring female to male transition, trans-men in to the mainstream media.
For this reason alone I applaud Jon Brittain for writing Rotterdam, keeping it human, relevant and of the moment . I welcome productions that put LGBT subjects in to the views of a mainstream audience.
Review by Faye Stockley
Alice wants to come out as a lesbian. Her girlfriend Fiona wants to start living as a man. It’s New Year in Rotterdam and Alice has finally plucked up the courage to email her parents and tell them she’s gay. But before she can hit send, Fiona reveals that he has always identified as a man and now wants to start living as one named Adrian. Now, as Adrian begins his transition, Alice must face a question she never thought she’d ask… does this mean she’s straight?
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Booking to 27th August 2016