Trafalgar Studios 2
28 July 2016
It’s always interesting when a smaller show is revived for another run. Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is one such production, now playing at Trafalgar Studio’s miniscule second space. With hardly enough room to swing a metaphorical cat, the venue is oddly perfect for this play; with the audience on three sides and close enough to the characters to catch every breath, the intimate nature of the play is inescapable.
After seven years in Rotterdam, Alice is on the verge of coming out to her parents – admittedly over email. Seconds before she can hit send however, girlfriend Fiona drops a bombshell; she has never felt truly comfortable in her body and wants to start living as Adrian, a man. This sends Alice into a crisis of identity – is she a gay woman, or if she’s now in a relationship with a man, does that make her straight?
We are voyeurs into these people’s lives from the moment we walk in. Alice is perched at her laptop, tapping anxiously away. Fiona wanders in and out in trackies and socks, alternately teasing and fretting over Alice. Many of the audience have to walk through this space to reach their seats. Already we are invading the couple’s existence.
As a matter of fact, Brittain’s script itself is so stunningly naturalistic, that there are often moments where we as audience feel almost as if we are eavesdropping on intimate conversations. Admittedly there are one or two moments where this verges into being a little preachy, with the audience getting a beginner’s guide to gender, but these are rare.
A well-chosen playlist of Europop covers scene changes, including Robyn and Christine and the Queens. However, the play could have done without the instrumental underscoring at tense moments, which distracts from the dialogue which is strong enough to stand alone.
The versatile set, hindered slightly by some difficult doors, switches from flat, to office, to nightclub with the aid of moved chairs and props. The square shelving and printed walls, featuring images of the titular city, suggest the generic anonymity of a backpacker’s flat, reminding us that Alice’s seven year stay in Rotterdam was only meant to be temporary. Combined with the pop soundtrack this emphasises the state of flux everyone in the play is in, with Adrian’s transitioning process and Alice’s attempts to adjust. Josh (Ed Eales-White) comments on this when he refers to Rotterdam’s status as a port city, with everyone either arriving or leaving, but never staying.
The cast of four are perfectly pitched and completely committed. The highlight is Anna Martine as Fiona, later Adrian. Utterly mesmerising, Martine makes Adrian’s pain clear, a master storyteller. Alice McCarthy as the conflicted Alice is very well done as the uptight, closeted girlfriend. A terrific rant towards the end of the first act ends with a wonderfully delivered understatement of ‘I’m a bit of a mess’ which prompts the best audience reaction of the night.
Nothing is conclusive in Rotterdam, but then again nothing is constant either. In this port city, where everyone is either arriving or leaving, the audience is simply given an insight into four people’s lives. Four people who don’t exactly want to change the whole world – just their little part of it. Hilarious and heartbreaking in turns, Rotterdam is a strong and highly enjoyable piece of theatre.
Rotterdam runs until 27 August 2016.