Since making a splash at Theatre503 in 2015, Rotterdam has gone from strength to strength with runs at Trafalgar Studios and New York’s 59E59, culminating with an Olivier Award win for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. The production now returns to the West End, feeling more topical than ever.
The play opens with Alice putting the finishing touches to a coming out email to her parents, seven years in the making. Just as she is about to press send, her girlfriend, Fiona, reveals that she has always known she was born in the wrong body and wants to start living as a man and being known as Adrian. The announcement fires up identity and gender issues for both Alice and Adrian – one questions her already fractured relationship with her sexuality while the other begins to assess the impact transitioning will have on his life and those around him.
Despite the broad comedy strokes, the play feels intimate and sensitively handled. Writer Jon Brittain carried out extensive research, and it shows. Rather than preach, the play makes us think. But it also entertains with sharp observations and a refreshing wit.
The cast is fantastic. Alice McCarthy as Alice is a tightly coiled spring, slowly loosening as she comes to terms with her own identity as well as her partner’s. As Adrian finds his own coming out process easier than expected – something which Alice has been unable to do once, let alone twice – the pain and jealousy is told wordlessly on McCarthy’s face.
Anna Martine Freeman is equally affecting as Adrian, displaying vulnerability despite a hard-as-nails exterior. Ed Ealse-White brings strong comedic timing to proceedings while Ellie Morris sets off sparks as her bold and brazen character, Lelani, helps bring Alice out of her shell.
The characters could be developed further – we know about their attitudes to gender and sexuality, but little else – but the audience is given more than enough to make them genuinely care about the journey and outcomes.
Rotterdam explores an incredibly complex issue with wit and just the right amount of sensitivity. An important play of our times.
Cast: Anna Martine Freeman, Alice McCarthy, Ellie Morris, Ed Eales-White Writer: Jon Brittain Director: Donnacadh O’Briain Duration: 130 mins Theatre: The Arts Theatre Dates: June 21st – July 15th 2017