Pros: An amazing script makes light work of a challenging subject and a well-rehearsed, talented cast breathe life into this compelling storyline.
Cons: Very few to speak of, although planting actors on stage prior to the performance seemed to disturb the atmosphere.
Not so long ago, Rotterdam would have been a daring if not controversial play to stage at a West End venue. But happily, it can now be billed as an honest story about relationships and people coming to terms with their identity. The Trafalgar Studios is the perfect setting, with comfortable seating facing a compact stage. Pre performance, cast members were already on stage and visually representing elements of the plot. Unfortunately, few noticed this intro as people were looking for their seats or checking their mobile.
The story begins with Alice, a repressed lesbian, drafting an email to her parents announcing her sexuality. She is playfully hindered by Fiona, her partner for the last seven years. Her parents are oblivious to the truth as Alice and Fiona live in the eternally liberal Netherlands. Fiona proofreads the email and is so moved that she asks Alice not to send it. Fiona has something to tell her, she wants to live as a man and be known as Adrian. Unsurprisingly, Alice hits the roof; just beginning to feel comfortable with her sexuality, she now has to question her identity yet again.
So her partner wants to become a man; does that now make her straight? Will Fiona be the same person as a transgender male?
Then we have Josh: Alice’s ex who is trying but failing to move on with his life. There’s only one thing worse than losing his girlfriend to another man and that’s losing her to another girl, who also happens to be his kid sister. Most guys would have shipped out years ago, but here he is: still the supportive friend and dutiful brother. Meanwhile Alice is slowly mesmerised by her workmate Lelani, a lesbian who came out at the age of ten and felt totally at ease with it. Lelani makes no secret of her attraction while Alice admires her cool, confident manner.
Can Alice and Fiona survive as a couple? Will Josh stop doing the decent thing and get a life of his own? And will Lelani have her wicked way with Alice? We soon find out as a fascinating story takes us inside four surprisingly complex characters. The script is incisive and extremely funny, but never loses sight of its central theme and the ripple effect caused by Fiona’s admission.
The cast brought the story to life with eye catching performances throughout. Alice McCarthy is a pure delight playing the polite, terribly English Alice, strangled by manners and respectability. Anna Martine plays Fiona, a conflicted soul with conviction and attitude; Ed Eales-White plays the hugely likable Josh, in many ways the hero of the piece; while Jessica Clark plays the flirtatious Lelani with a pretty damn good Dutch accent.
Rotterdam works like a dream because it presents the audience with brilliant characters and a flowing script that left us itching for the next line; always truthful but often humorous. The play poses many questions as to how we perceive ourselves and others. But the true essence of the story asks whether gender has any bearing on our emotional characteristics; would we be the same person regardless?
Author: Jon Brittain
Director: Donnacadh O’Briain
Producer: Hartshorn-Hook Productions in association with Theatre 503
Booking Until: 27 August 2016
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking Link: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/rotterdam/trafalgar-studios/