Review: 'Rotterdam' at Trafalgar Studios 2
OnStage United Kingdom Critic
‘I don’t know if I want to use a strap-on!’ ‘ROTTERDAM’
Finding myself wedged between two couples on intimate sofa style seats at Trafalgar Studios 2. I prepped myself for 2 ½ hours of ultimate 5th wheeling. In an attempt to drive out the incessant giggling and displays of affection [insert further bitter comments here] I turned my attention to Alice McCarthy who commenced the show anxiously staring at a laptop screen. To say the space is intimate is an understatement, the studio seats only 100 people and from my couple crashing viewpoint I could read the text on the laptop screen (top marks for continuity of the piece though). Picture a fringe style traverse space dotted with a couple of chairs and square wheeled boxes. It was clear the set was not the pulling element of the piece.
The play is set in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam (the clue is in the title).
Josh ‘Everything moving on, nothing’s standing still’.
The sense of constant movement and fluidity of the port is reflected in the boxes moving to create the scene changes, from an office block to a frozen river. The idea of movement is continued through the content of the production. Jon Brittain’s writing focuses on the dynamic between Alice (Alice McCarthy) a lesbian planning to come out via email, and Fi/Adrian (Anna Martine) her girlfriend who reveals he identifies as a man. The evolution of their relationship is interspersed by Josh (Ed Eales-White), Adrian’s Brother/Alice’s ex-boyfriend (awkward) and Lelani (Jessica Clark), Alice’s young hazy work colleague. The additional characters take the plot beyond the exploration of a relationship and navigate themes of deceit, sibling relations and the evolving sense of identity.
The exploration of identity refuses to be limited to gender or sexual orientation, additionally Brittain explores the impact of culture. A sense of detachment and isolation is introduced through the setting of ‘Rotterdam’. The port where everything is ‘moving’ is juxtaposed by Alice’s primary resistance to change. Her refusal to immerse herself in the language, food or culture creates a sense of displacement, starkly contrasting Lelani’s hilarious free spirited lifestyle. Alternatively, Alice hides behind ‘British etiquette', which is transformed into an act of cowardice with Lelani suggesting instead of being polite she should tell the ‘truth’. The brash nature of Lelani paired with her comedic timing and frankly brilliant accent leads the comedy through the piece.
The wit of the piece engages the audience however the honest, raw emotion holds them. The gut-wrenching portrayal of Adrian by Anna Martine for me stole the show. Her honest approach paired with the seamless comedic moments brought Adrian’s journey to life. The physicalization of pain she enacted refuses to leave my mind. The emotional breakdown was matched with a heartbreaking soundtrack (and underscored by the girl next to me snacking on crisps, what is with this obsession of eating during a show? And crisps?!? Why not just crack out a full roast-that would be subtler. Okay I digress) the music although at times arguably lacked originality. ‘Dancing on my Own’ made multiple appearances, a heartbreaking song? Yes, but a tad obvious when talking about a partner moving on too quickly (which is really not okay).
Although I have great admiration for the script I felt at times it imitated a lecture on transgender issues rather than a personal journey.
Josh ‘What’s that word when your body and gender match up?’ Adrian ‘cis’.
The nature of writing at moments seemed forced - almost desperate to educate. Brittain has clearly executed a great deal of research, however occasionally this leads to an impersonal interaction.
The play presents itself as an exploration of transgender issues however, it becomes more than that, it takes the audience on a journey of self-expression and identity.
Adrian ‘‘I don’t want to change the world I just want people to see me the way I want to be seen’.
The fluidity of cultural, sexual and physical identity creates a moving piece that stays with you passed the final bows. Even though I personally have no attachment to the material it was one of the most poignant shows I have seen this year (Yes I have also seen ‘People Places and Things’ and I am torn over which piece I preferred-That’s how good I’m suggesting Rotterdam is). The audience cried, laughed, and were left speechless; although the writing at moments is questionable the acting carries the story with a level of comedic pace and honest emotion that more than makes up for it. The performance received a well deserved standing ovation, even the girl put the crisps down, and the couples ceased holding hands - if that isn't high praise then I don't know what is.
‘Rotterdam’ script is available online/National’s Bookshop (100% would advise)