Fresh from Oliviers success and a stint in New York, Jon Brittain’s play Rotterdam returns to London for a limited West End run this summer. Its stint is timed very well, as it covers the entirety of London Pride month.
The story primarily focuses on Fiona and Alice, who’ve been living together in Rotterdam for several years. They might have returned home long ago, but Alice hasn’t had the courage to come out to her parents and is scared her telling them she’s a lesbian might be the last contact they ever have. But on New Year’s Eve, she finally decides she should send the email she’s been drafting and redrafting for a while – until Fiona drops the bombshell that she thinks she might actually be a man. While Fiona quickly comes to terms with this realisation, adopting the name Adrian, Alice struggles with the pace her partner’s life starts to run at and begins questioning her own identity once more. Will their relationship survive? And will she have to send that email after all?
As the programme notes state, this is an absolutely vital time to be bringing more LGBTQIA+ related pieces to the stage and beyond, as backward-thinking politics start to take a hold in previously pioneering countries. Having a focus on a transgender character is especially important given the to-ing and fro-ing over the North Carolina bathroom bill under President Trump; if the wider population can have a positive impact in the long run. Also, addressing gender identity in the context of a gay relationship helps to cover more ground, showing that gender and sexuality are separate entities – and intensely complex ones at that. The play is also relatable on a universal level, in that it shows the importance of being true to yourself, even if it means making incredibly difficult decisions along the way. And to top it all off, the writing is belly laugh funny, and gut-wrenchingly moving.
This being my first time seeing it, I can’t comment on how the production feels compared with its previous smaller homes, though as the Arts is one of the more intimate large West End spaces I’d say it’s very well suited. Small enough to still feel highly engaged with the action, but big enough to bring in a wider audience and spread the message further. Ellan Parry’s set design is bold and bright, fitting well in the space – and combined with Richard Williamson’s lighting design and Keegan Curran’s sound design and compositions, the production easily assumes its own identity.
The cast of four create their own world onstage and invite you to join them from the moment you enter the auditorium. Ellie Morris is very funny as Lelani, showing off her youthful spirit (and the follies of youth) with no remorse. Ed Eales-White brings deadpan humour to Josh, as well as some moments of genuine pathos as Josh tries to support both Adrian and Alice.
Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine Freeman make a wonderful partnership, easily portraying how their characters’ relationship works so well at the beginning of the play, gradually moving from humorous to heartbreaking as the tension mounts between them. McCarthy’s comic timing is superb throughout, from Alice’s unbending need to do things properly to her attempts at throwing fireworks. Freeman is particularly affecting in a very physical emotional outburst as Adrian later on in the play, and the pair’s final scene together must surely leave even those with the frostiest hearts in the room unable to stop crying.
My verdict? A vital piece of theatre that brings something very real to the stage, making it universally relatable – without doubt a must-see.
Rotterdam runs at the Arts Theatre (West End) until 15 July 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.