Pros: Features funny plot points, amusing characters and big laughs.
Cons: The show has too much exposition and can sometimes feel like an after school special.
The Arts Theatre just off Leicester Square is a scruffy but welcoming “boutique” theatre. Although the show wasn’t sold out, there was a great atmosphere in the theatre, akin to entering a nightclub. Perhaps best of all were the notices informing patrons that the bathrooms are now for all genders, which seems fitting given the plot of Rotterdam.
Rotterdam follows the story of Alice and Fiona, an English couple living in the titular city. The plot revolves around Alice’s attempts to come out to her parents via email, only for Fiona to make an announcement of ‘her’ own: Fiona is transgender and wants to begin living as Adrian.
The staging – featuring a skyscape of Rotterdam and several doors, cupboards and cubby holes – is relatively simplistic. The amount of Ikea furniture made the set feel slightly cheap, however as the show progressed the staging became more versatile and atmospheric; my favourite being a scene wherein the skyscape was dotted with pinpricks of ‘starlight’ and blue balloons covered the floor to make a frozen canal. The scene changes whilst amusing were unnecessarily long at times, which made some scenes feel disconnected.
Rotterdam’s main strength is its humour: there are some excellent jokes and amusing observations. The cast also give enthusiastic performances, although I found Alice McCarthy’s seeming failure to look other actors in the eye grating at times (in an otherwise witty performance). The real star of the show is Anna Martine Freeman, who gave a powerful and emotive performance, particularly in the second act when Alice and Adrian’s relationship begins to unravel.
My main gripe with Rotterdam is that it’s unclear who the show is aimed at. If it’s aimed at socially aware young people then its explanations of trans issues are unnecessary. Conversely, if Rotterdam is trying to appeal to a wider audience, its tone may come across as overly educational. As a fairly genderfluid bisexual woman married to a woman I’m undeniably glad to see a show that speaks to my personal experience but I honestly think LGBT+ people deserve better quality playwriting than this.
Rotterdam is an amusing and heartfelt show. While the show educates as it entertains, it often does this at the expense of pursuing a more interesting and nuanced plot. An important step towards more socially aware and diverse playwriting, Rotterdam needs a clearer understanding of its intended audience.
Writer: Jon Brittain
Producer: Hartshorn – Hook Productions
Booking Until: 15 July 2017
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
Booking Link: https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/whats-on/rotterdam/