Rotterdam - 23 June 2017 Review

"Should be seen by all"

Rotterdam has seen continued success after first opening at Theatre 503 in 2015, before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios and having an Off-Broadway run, before now coming back home for another London stint at the Arts Theatre.

Luckily it easily lives up to the hype precipitated by its multiple transfers. Focussing on a lesbian couple and the turmoil they face when one of the pair decides she wants to transition to living life as a man, it is easy to see why this play has become so talked about.

Despite stories of LGBT issues often being more represented in theatre than many other art forms and media, there is still a notable lack of serious portrayals of trans couples on stage. For years, most portrayals of any kind of gender fluidity on stage have come in the form of the bombastic performances of the drag queens and trans women of Kinky Boots, Priscilla, The Rocky Horror Show and, more recently, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Although these are fantastic in their own right, as a portrayal of what it means to be different, they too often fall into the trap of being purely an upbeat, camp celebration, rather than a more nuanced and relatable depiction.

Jon Brittain’s play however perfectly manages to fill this void. Many questions are posed by Rotterdam, dissecting the confusion and anguish of someone who has never been comfortable within their own body, as well as how it feels to be a partner who doesn’t know how to react. It doesn’t try to answer them all however, managing to tell a single story without making it feel like it is the only story of transitioning.

The play is far from a kitchen sink drama however, with a fast-paced plot that keeps you hanging on. Although you probably wouldn’t bill it as comedy, it has far more funny lines and jokes that land than many comedies in the West End do. The humour manages never to feel pretentious however and also avoids ever becoming base or demeaning, in the way that is so easy to do when joking about sex or sexuality.

This level of comedy may be surprising but the humour makes the characters far more real and relatable, developing genuine empathy for when the play pivots to heavier scenes. Towards the end when Fiona, now Adrian, attempts to desperately and drunkenly put on a dress and makeup in an attempt to conform to feminine norms, it cannot help but feel like the most unnatural and tragic thing in the world.

The cast are all fantastic as well, with Alice McCarthy as Alice and Anna Martine Freeman as Fiona/Adrian, they easily are able to make the characters intricate and interesting and never as something weird or to be ogled.

Funny and moving, this nuanced bittersweet play may not be the most extravagant of productions, but it certainly has far more heart than most and should be seen by all.

Reviewed by Shaun Millis.
23 June 2017, Arts Theatre