Deciding between two plays on the same day, Ip Dip was the cards. Rereading the press releases, I hunted for my blogging juice and questioned which production excited me the most. To be honest, there was no competition – one play “sounds a little dry whereas the other sounds … interesting … I think.” I took a gamble on Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam at the Trafalgar Studios. I’m proud of my decision.
Alice wants to come as a lesbian. Her girlfriend 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 she’d ask…does this mean she’s straight?
Like Alice, I always hover over the publish button in fear of spelling or grammatical errors. Luckily, I can fall back on my dyslexia as an excuse, but Alice can’t excuse her sexuality. Why should she?
Personally, we live in a world where we’re too scared or shy to talk about gender and sexuality in detail. Political correctness and ignorance rules the world, but Rotterdam opens this dam and pumps sexuality into the mainstream. Theatre isn’t afraid to speak up.
Frustrated with life and unable to speak Dutch, Alice McCarthy performs as Alice with sophistication and intelligence. Destroying the stereotypical “lesbian”, Alice battles acceptance and initially rejects her girlfriend’s transition. Wanting to immediately unlike her, Alice finds her quick fling to satisfy her wandering eye and baptises her confirmation: “I like girls” with Lelani (Jessica Clark). Worrying over parents’ approval, you realise perhaps you’re being a little harsh on Alice.
Alice constantly requests more time to send the “coming out” email whereas Adrian’s bravery is almost instant. Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine (Fiona/Adrian) work the stage together as a couple with history unknown to us. These two characters possess such a glorious prequel, you soon desire a sequel.
Encapsulating the struggles and joys of gender and self-identity, Anna Martine takes us on this incredible journey with her character, Fiona/Adrian. Mentally exploring and physically expressing the unspoken transition, Martine emotionally invests into her role and creates such a harsh wakeup call. This is reality of self-discovery and I found Rotterdam somewhat educational.
Wrapping the chest binder around Fiona, Alice’s reluctance overshadows this moment of pause and celebration of Adrian’s freedom. His progression and complexities of relationships, the changing of the human body and emotions really hit home.
Seeking reassurance and love for Alice, Adrian realises his decision has consequences. Contemplating chaining his newfound freedom for the sake of a relationship, you yearn for Adrian to stay true to his roots and forget Alice. However, Adrian still loves her and this is where the heart-wrenching begins.
“No, Alice, I don’t want to become a man, I just want to stop trying to be a woman.”
Being the man in the middle, Josh (Ed Eales-White) is the big brother everyone wants. Relying on his jokey and clueless nature, he becomes the godly pacifier between the arguing women and the human punchbag for Adrian. Unsurprised and level headed, Josh welcomes Fiona’s news and Adrian’s crisis with a comforting embrace and an awkward pub talk.
Jon Brittain admitted he needed to find purpose for Josh within Rotterdam, but Eales-White is the play’s supportive pillar and reinstates family and emotional values back into the story. A kind guy, who realises his new brother needs him and exchanges his undying love for his ex-girlfriend to help Adrian settle and find his footing. Josh’s gentleness yet silliness created many tender loving care moments, embodying society supporting the LBGT community.
Jessica Clark was Rotterdam’s ultimate party babe. Playing the wild child, Lelani was the glitter bomb powerhouse. Entwining beaming confidence with glimmering vulnerability, Lelani is Alice’s quick fix.
Rebel without a cause, Lelani is the powerpuff girl, teasing and daring to throw firecrackers across the frozen lake. Strutting in glittering high heels and colourful beauty, Lelani makes life fun again, tempting Alice to escape her enclosed reality with Adrian.
With sexuality in sync, Clark toyed with femme fatale and knew how to make this Dutch girl possess strong attitude with an almighty ego. Slutdropping, windmill headbanging and raving, Clark had so much fun with her character, making me want to be part of her girl gang. With her rainbow dyed hair, she was the pot of gold…and constantly sparkled throughout the production.
Loving Ellan Parry’s set and costume designs, Rotterdam has a kickass, urban funk. The stretched Rotterdam skyline, cubed IKEA inspired cabinets, clear plastic chairs and brightly coloured lamps create a retro pop modern introduction. The three doors slam, breaking scene transitions and welcoming four characters individually. Injecting cheesy electropop tunes, including Robyn’s Dancing on my Own (TUNE!), made me smile and foot tap in my seat.
Collaborating with Richard Williamson’s lighting designs, the set body popped into new spaces and places, including the couple’s flat, Alice’s office and a nightclub. Entering and exiting, the characters used the doors to manipulate the stage and split scenes. There’s also a very clever reference towards the literal sense of “coming out of the closet”.
Thanks to Jon Brittain’s dislike towards Rotterdam, I enjoyed his Rotterdam. The play was high on attitude and comedy. Focusing upon sexuality and gender, Brittain treads carefully, but cleverly threads plenty of laugh out loud moments. With superb writing and cast, the play responds to an emergency by opening its floodgates and the jets of emotion shoot their loads across a swish set. I didn’t need Dutch courage to see Rotterdam as it was fantastisch!