If you only see one play this year, it has to be this!
- Title: Rotterdam
- Theatre: The Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JB
- Duration: 130 minutes (including interval)
- Run: 21 June to 15 July 2017 (Post-Show Q&A: 28 June and 5 July - free to same day ticketholders)
- Tickets: Premium £55, £49.50, £39.50, £32.50, £25.00, £15.00
2017 is the year of lesbian theatre. In London alone this year there have been over 20 plays taking place across London and Brighton alone, including Her Aching Heart, The Elephant Girls and Joan. I’ve been reviewing lesbian-themed theatre now for around 6 years in the city and whilst most of it is fringe theatre in theatres above pubs; the quality is growing and growing and Rotterdam is certainly aiming for the top spot, and is absolutely worthy of its current home in The Arts Theatre.
Rotterdam is a play with a strong lesbian and trans storyline that is currently running at The Arts Theatre on Great Newport Street in London. It was first produced back in 2015 and ran at Theatre503. Due to the success it transferred to Trafalgar Studios in 2016 – both theatres have a good reputation for showcasing LGBT theatre and it is great to see an LGBT themed play doing so well.
Following a successful run in the UK it went Stateside and ran in New York. Back in London if you haven’t seen this, you really need to see it before it ends as it is fantastic.
Rotterdam was writing by Jon Brittain in 2012. He has written from experience, wanting to see a play that reflected his life and that of his friends. Having a number of friends who transitioned he was inspired to write this as there were barely any trans narratives on stage or screen.
The script was written with a lot of input from the trans community, including Gendered Intelligence and Trans Media Watch; and the result is truly amazing. We get to watch the transition of Fiona and Alice’s relationship as Fiona transitions to Adrian. The story also overlaps and intertwines with 2 additional characters: Josh and Lelani.
The story opens up with Alice trying to send her parents an email to tell them she is gay. Her girlfriend, Fiona and her have a bet that she will never do it... a short while later that all gets forgotten as Fiona drops a bombshell that rocks their stable relationship and makes Alice question whether she is a lesbian at all.
There is so much to love about this performance, the writing is exquisite, the jokes clever and laughs plenty and the emotional scenes tear-jerking. It covers some pretty tough issues in a really interesting and clear way. The interaction of the four characters, all with different perspectives and understanding allows for a really clear evolution of understanding. There are stereotypes and references that had the audience in stitches. What was also good was that we got to see the impact that one person’s transition can have on not only themselves but also the partner and family – it was really insightful to see the potential fallout to the partner’s identity and to help to understand that the process is complex and multi-faceted. It doesn’t shy away from the tough times, and bravely shows the process – warts and all.
The set was awesome – one room that easily changed from one set to another through lighting and a few minor movements. The set changes were undertaken by the cast, in somewhat comical style – often with ‘dad dancing’ or eating the props). The use of cupboards on set to store props for scene changeovers and the awesome cupboard that acts as a door give different exits for different scenes.
In some scenes there were two locations taking place at the same time – this worked really well in showing the parallel experiences of the characters and the use of lighting and music made this performance worthy of the standing ovation it got at the end.
Fiona/Adrian (played by Anna Martine Freeman) was a strong actor – with great facial expressions and a strong presence on stage. The good script combined with her acting skill meant that it was difficult not to feel really close to her/him throughout the play. The first half is with Fiona and the second half is Adrian – it is impressive the change that takes place. Very much down to the skill of the actor.
Alice (played by Alice McCarthy) played the quite highly-strung girlfriend and one of my highlights was definitely her reaction to smoking pot.
Josh (played by Ed Eales-White) is Alice’s co-worker (and ex) and provides the somewhat more heteronormative perspective and even tries to do a bit of mansplaining to Adrian in the bar when things are going tough.
Lelani (played by Ellie Morris) is a Dutch 21-year-old who works with Alice and hasn’t a care in the world. She is young and she likes to party. She is honest and truthful and helps Alice to let her hair down and escape from the fast-moving world in which she struggles to understand. Olga who joined me at this performance was adamant that actor Ellie must be Dutch as the accent was so good however her biography and name seem to indicate she is British.
Fit for Television!
I could absolutely see this being made into a comedy series for television, it has the right level of humour and story and with the ability to include a few additional scenes and additional characters could make for an amazing series that both entertains the LGBT community, whilst educating its allies.
About the Play
After its triumphant win at the 2017 Olivier Awards, and a sell-out run in New York, the critically acclaimed Rotterdam returns to London for a strictly limited engagement at The Arts Theatre, London.
Rotterdam is a bittersweet comedy about gender, sexuality and being a long way from home written by Jon Brittain, writer of What Would Spock Do? and A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)
Alice wants to come out as a lesbian. Her girlfriend Fiona wants to start living as a man named Adrian. Now, as he begins his transition, Alice faces a question she never thought she'd ask... does this mean she's straight?
About The Arts Theatre
The Arts Theatre is a boutique theatre in the heart of the West End. It was originally founded in 1927 and throughout its early history was at the cutting edge of London’s creative scene. It operated as a members’ theatre club so was not subject to the strict censorship laws of the time so was able to produce risk-taking and experimental plays. In 2017 The Arts Theatre is a thriving hub off creativity and entertainment. In 2015 the theatre underwent a substantial refurbishment including air conditioning in the main auditorium. It has also recently launched ‘Above the Arts’, a theatre industry private members’ club and social space. The Arts Theatre houses the famous Covent Garden Cocktail Club in its basement and has a foyer café run by the Department for Coffee and Social Affairs.
Far from your usual West End Theatre, this is a great place to experience theatre as it is a perfect combination between formal West End and fringe theatre venues.
What else is on at The Arts Theatre?
On Sunday 2 July, for one day only; The Ruby Slippers is taking place at The Arts Theatre.
If you fancy coming along, Planet Nation is having a social.
Why not join us?