Writer: Jon Brittain
Director: Donnacadh O’Briain
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Although Rotterdam has only recently started to tour, Jon Britain wrote the play some years ago. It would be great to report that the need to be tolerant of the wishes of other people- one of the themesof the play- has now been absorbed into our culture. Unfortunately, the homophobic attack suffered by some of the cast earlier this week suggests the play is as relevant as ever.
Rotterdam is a port- a place of transition. As such it is the perfects etting for a story about characters who are struggling to determine, and move on to, their true identities. Alice (Rebecca Banatvala) does not regard Rotterdam as home. She moved there from the UK to escape her boyfriend Josh (Paul Heath) upon realising she was attracted tohis sister Fiona (Lucy Jane Parkinson) with whom she has now formed ar elationship. Alice is still in the closet and, just as she is aboutto tell her parents she is Gay, Fiona announces she identifies as a man and intends to start the process of transitioning into Adrian. Confused as to whether this development means she is actually straight Alice allows herself to become attracted to a work colleague – Lelani (Stella Taylor) whose free-spirited attitude is the complete opposite of Alice’s reserved approach to life.
There are many heavy themes in Rotterdam, including the confusion arising from gender fluidity, if it is possible to love a person regardless of gender and the need to balance one’s own wishes against the impact on other people. As if determined to show respect for the themes director Donnacadh O’Briain sets a measured pace; which is not to say the play is ponderous. Throughout O’Briain strives for a light touch. Paul Heath, in full camp mode, carries out scene changes to an ear-splitting disco beat. Rebecca Banatvala, staggering on-stage in a ridiculous orange wig, undercuts the high drama of Lucy Jane Parkinson appearing for the first time as Adrian with a convincing masculine appearance.
Nevertheless. at times, the play would benefit from a faster pace to draw out the comedy in scenes of misunderstanding and mistaken identity. Although the disco beat is effective in setting the light mood it occasionally comes close to drowning out some of the best lines (‘’She’s no longer my girlfriend- literally’’).
The comedy in the play arises out of the characters rather than the situation. Rebecca Banatvala channels Hugh Grant for a wonderful anxiety-driven performance. Constantly sitting erect and dressed conservatively Banatvala is the picture of repressed emotions. One of the joys of the play is the way in which tenderness creeps through when least expected – the confused Alice helping Adrian put on bindings to flatten their breasts.
The play is sympathetic to the challenges faced by Adrian but does not deny there are selfish aspects to the decision to transition as it involves them imposing their views on what is acceptable on friends, family and lovers. Adrian’s transitioning comes close to destroying Alice’s perceived sexual identity. Lucy Jane Parkinson gives a complex performance and does not ignore Adrian’s self-obsession and self-righteousness. They have a confrontational approach to anyone not sensitive to their identity and are so excited when Lelani recognises them as male they overlook the clues that she may be Alice’s lover. Yet the depth of feeling in Parkinson’s tormented and dignified performance makes clear transition is not a selfish whim but close to destiny – something that Adrian has to pursue if they are to achieve their true identity.
Rotterdam is a deeply satisfying play; complex and demanding but constantly entertaining it remains powerful and unfortunately relevant.
Runs until 15th June 2019 | Image: Contributed