Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios

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No one stays long in Rotterdam. Boats, goods and people are always on the move in and out of the Dutch port city. Alice is an exception, an English immigrant whose ship washed ashore seven years ago and never took to sea again. She doesn’t like the city, but neither does she want to leave. Her ex-boyfriend Josh came with her, but after meeting his sister Fiona, Alice realised she was gay and left Josh for Fi. The women set up home in Rotterdam, couched in comfortable, domestic bliss for the last several years. Now a few nights before New Year’s Eve, Alice agonises over a coming out email to her parents back home. As she’s about to click send, Fi has her own coming out – she’s not a gay woman, she’s a man called Adrian trapped in a woman’s body.

Alice’s secure life begins to come loose from its moorings as she tries to support Adrian’s transition. Her brave face can only hold up for so long as she is left in his wake in Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam. The fragility of their relationship is much more moving than any televised exposé for the masses. Even though some scenes are a touch overwritten, the ebb and flow of this delicate situation is exquisitely captured.

Brittain’s use of perfectly balanced perspectives makes it impossible to take sides as Adrian and Alice’s issues become increasingly at odds – a commendable decision that’s difficult to execute in writing. Both are inherently self-absorbed, and both have genuine grievances with the other. The nuance in the storyline lies in their interactions, and two minor characters provide a wider view of their microcosm that feels devastatingly huge. All four characters have quietly powerful speeches and moments where they try to understand each other despite their needs being at odds with someone else’s experience. These characters are wonderfully flawed humans trying their best to navigate an unfamiliar situation; Brittain’s ability to foster audience empathy through their spectrum of emotions and occasional bad behaviour is spot on.

Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine as Alice and Fi/Adrian are phenomenal. Jessica Clark is Lelani, Alice’s much younger, distracting lesbian colleague full of energy, life and good intentions. Ed Eales-White as Josh has a lovely, quiet patience and dogged determination to stick by the couple even though he had been hurt so badly all those years ago.

Though some moments are a bit overly explanatory about family relationships and trans experience, they are easily forgiven in light of the fully believable characters. Though this isn’t an “awareness” piece per say, the humanity and insight into transgender transition Rotterdam provides is hugely important and valuable.

Rotterdam runs through 27th July.

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