Theatre503, London (****)
Given its sensitive subject – transgender and lesbian relations – in earlier years, one might have expected Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam to have ended up as a `ghetto’ play. It’s a mark of how far we’ve come that instead Rotterdam has `commercial’ written all over it, in the best sense of the word: accessible to all, stylish, funny, true and brave.
Donnacadh O’Briain’s cheeky, sparky production also gives full validation to Theatre503’s new writing support programme. Initially a seed-bed commission, a quick run-down of Brittain’s credits does reveal him, however, to be anything but a novice, having written for the BBC’s comedy news programme, The Now Show as well co-creator of the satirical sensation, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho plus a slew of other dramas.
Anyway, here we have Alice, living in Rotterdam with her lesbian girlfriend, Fi, trying to come out to her parents via an email over which she’s been labouring for seven years. Alice, in Alice McCarthy’s clever, beautifully detailed performance is really one of life’s cautious ditherers. Anna Martine’s lithe, tomboyish Fi, by comparison is all impetuous but decisive action. And she has her own secret. She feels she’s a man in a woman’s body. She’s told nobody but now the time has come to make the change.
Between these two `coming out’ dilemmas, Brittain weaves a firey, remarkable comedy of the emotional quicksands involved in Alice’s response to Fi’s announcement and the painful adjustments both must make, full of sharp one-liners but acute observation of what it means on either side.
It’s the kind of play you might also find now at the Soho Theatre – explorations of contemporary sexual politics and meta-sexualities, lapped up by young audiences and stirred into being by unfussy, gifted performances.
Apart from the excellent McCarthy and Martine who give a new meaning to naturalism, Ed Eales-White provides a delicious portrait of a slightly gormless but well meaning heterosexual male as Fi’s brother whilst Jessica Clark’s young 21 year old Dutch diversion, glittered to the eyeballs, is both hilarious and terrifying.
I’m no clearer as to exactly why Brittain chose Rotterdam. But no matter, the result is a triumph. Highly recommended.