Transgender seems to be trending all over the place these days: a transgender man identifying as a woman has been moved to a female prison, Germaine Greer has faced a backlash over her controversial views on the subject and the BBC has aired the first trangender sitcom. No wonder Collins English Dictionary has just named it as one of the 10 words of the year.
Rotterdam takes the format of a rom-com to raise thorny issues of gender, sexuality and identity with a light touch that is sensitive rather than superficial: Jon Brittain’s new play is a simple story of girl meets girl who wants to be a boy.
After living for seven years with her girlfriend, Fiona, Alice is about to finally come out to her parents when Fiona breaks to her that she/he has always internally identified as a male and now wants to be called Adrian. While Adrian undergoes his bumpy journey of presenting as a man, Alice has doubts about her own sexual identity as she struggles to cope with her partner’s physical change: maybe she herself has been straight all along?
Brittain’s play is a sharp and sassy contemporary take on the fluidity of sexuality with loads of laugh-out-loud moments that don’t belittle its essentially serious themes. Beautifully constructed with surprising but credible plot twists, Rotterdam is a warmly engaging account of the complexities of relationships that balances humour with pathos so that you care for the characters. The unromantic Dutch port forms an ironic backdrop, as a transient place where people come and go but where the protagonists here seem to have run aground.
Director Donnacadh O’Briain keeps the play flowing with admirable slickness in a high-energy, entertaining production backed by an electro-Europop soundtrack where even the minimal scene-changing is played amusingly in character by the actors. Ellan Parry’s brightly coloured, flexible design is cleverly adjusted to represent the action moving from home to office to bar and ferry terminal.
The central, long-term loving relationship with its mix of intimate tenderness and blazing rows is believably and touchingly conveyed by Alice McCarthy as the inhibited, uncertain Alice who can’t make up her mind and Anna Martine as the more extrovert, confident Fiona/Adrian who is determined to be accepted as a man. As their confidant who cares for both of them, Ed Eales-White is an amusingly geeky peacemaker who sometimes gets caught in the middle, while Jessica Clark is hilariously upfront and literal as the young Dutch lipstick lesbian who wants to have fun in “one of the greatest cities in the world”.
Rotterdam is on at Theatre503 at The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW until 21 November. Tickets are £15. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.