Rotterdam – Review

Anna Martine Freeman & Alice McCarthy in Rotterdam. Images Hunter Canning.
Anna Martine Freeman & Alice McCarthy in Rotterdam. Images Hunter Canning.

There’s something you need to know about me.

It’s wonderful when a small, unpretentious, play is thrust into the limelight.

Rotterdam, which follows the crazy, mixed-up and confusing relationship between posh closet gay, Alice, and her teacher girlfriend, Fiona, is back in the West End, simultaneously winning friends and breaking hearts all over again.

It started off in Battersea’s ambitious Theatre503, was sensationally picked up to run Off-Broadway, returned to the UK in a blaze of glory for a spell at Trafalgar Studios, won an Olivier and has now been reprised at the Arts Theatre London.

Phew! Never has a whirlwind success been more deserved.

This story is about love, sexuality and acceptance but, more than that, it is about finding yourself, respect and tolerance.

Anna Martine Freeman gives an extraordinary performance as Fiona. I had a lump in my throat during one, incredibly powerful and moving scene, where Fiona, now called Adrian, desperately tries to turn back the clock. It’s heart-wrenching.

But Rotterdam is also a tender love story and a brilliantly conceived comedy that is warm, marvellously observational and quite revelatory.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Brittain set his play in Holland purely to be able to include a backtrack of Eurobeat disco songs but, it’s more likely because of the country’s laid back attitude to sex and drugs.

Alice works in an office. She sounds like your typical repressed Surrey-type, terribly posh, awfully inhibited. But she bravely came out seven years ago and now lives with Fiona.

The only problem is – she hasn’t told her parents that she’s gay, much less that she’s in a steady relationship, and she’s terrified about how they will take the news.

Rotterdam opens with Alice sitting at her laptop, preparing to send her parents an explosive email. But she can’t press send.

She’s terrified, biting her nails, re-reading it repeatedly, spellchecks it incessantly. Anything but put her finger on the detonator.

It’s easier for Fiona. She’s been gay since she was a child and it’s never been a problem for her family.

And, for brother Josh (a wonderfully dead-pan and dry turn from Ed Eales-White), he finds himself in a tangled threesome after being in the unenviable position of losing his girlfriend to his sister.

But Alice and Fiona’s relationship is about to go to a whole new level when Fiona drops a bombshell that has major repercussions for the couple’s long-term relationship. She is transgender and wants to transition to become a man.

Alice (a splendid performance by Alice McCarthy) is confused. She’s gay. She likes women. And here is Fiona wanting to become a man.

“This is a lot to take in,” says Alice.

“When I look in a mirror it’s not quite me,” admits Fiona.

“What does that make me?” asks the perplexed Alice.

Later, Freeman is now Adrian and his life isn’t any easier, either with Alice, who is slowly learning to enjoy life with her wacky co-worker, Lelani (a highly animated Ellie Morris), or at large. He’s jobless and unable to come to terms with how he is perceived by others.

Sensitive, honest, courageous and full of heart. You’ll fall in love with all four characters on their journey to find happiness.

Rotterdam runs at the Arts Theatre LDN until July 22.

Review Rating
  • Rotterdam
5

Summary

A triumphant return for the award-winning Rotterdam, a powerful and moving lesbian love story that is funny, sensitive, honest and full of heart.

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