Hilarious and heart breaking

Iggy Moon watches Jon Brittain's play Rotterdam.

Jon Brittain’s play Rotterdam takes place in an intimate space, so the audience are literally in touching distance of each of the four characters as they move through a series of transitions. This creates a perfect setting for an incredibly interesting, funny and thoughtful play where we meet Alice, Fiona/Adrian, Josh and Lelani.

After seven years living in Rotterdam, Alice (Alice McCarthy) makes the decision that, as it is New Year, she must come out to her parents via email. She shares the content with Fiona (Anna Martine), her first female partner - Alice was originally in a relationship with Josh, Fiona’s brother. Fiona drops a bombshell; she has never felt truly comfortable in her body and wants to start living as he truly feels – as Adrian, a man. This sends Alice into a crisis of identity – is she a lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual?

The play focuses on a series of transitions, as well as the matrix of relationships between all the characters and the wider changes in social meanings for sexuality and gender. For example, while we are introduced to Josh (Ed Eales-White) as representative of a changing heterosexual masculinity, we also witness Alice’s friendship with a queer young woman at work, and how this forms the catalyst for a gradual self-understanding about her own sexuality. Fiona/Adrian presents more contemporary issues about gender and specifically transsexuality, the need for medical support, and the underlying complexity and politics of ‘passing’. Everything is in a state of flux, with Josh commenting on this when he refers to Rotterdam’s status as a port city, with everyone either arriving or leaving, but never staying.

In the background, a fun and free playlist of Europop covers scene changes, where each of the characters cleverly transition the meaning of the small space from flat to nightclub, from office to bedroom, with the aid of moved chairs and props. The laptops, shelving and backpacks, remind us that Alice’s seven year stay in Rotterdam was only meant to be temporary. The cast of four are all excellent. All the relationships present the love for each other, and how they also share pain and sorrow. The highlight is Anna Martine as Fiona, later Adrian. Absolutely brilliant. Alice McCarthy as the conflicted Alice is excellent, initially reserved and controlled, but gradually finding herself as fun and outgoing. Ed Eales-White (Josh) shows a beautiful sensitivity towards his newly found brother and his partner. And Jessica Clarke (Lelani) is superb – carrying humour and anger and sadness into and out of each scene, like they were gently arranged props. Each character finds ways of asking questions the audience wants to ask at just the right time, and this is the genius of the play. It is so well timed.

Questioning and confusing, hilarious and heart-breaking, Rotterdam is a strong and highly enjoyable play. It really is a ‘must see’.

- Reviewed by Iggi Moon, Senior Lecturer in Counselling Psychology at Roehampton University.

Rotterdam runs to 27 August at Trafalgar Studios.

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