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REVIEW: Rotterdam at the Arts Theatre

By Harrison Fuller
Tuesday 27 June 2017

Theatre has always been used to initiate conversation, debate and thought. Reflecting its contemporary society, the theatre has been a place for writers and artists to explore themes affecting the outside world and, through the medium of live performance, seek to find reason and understanding.

REVIEW: Rotterdam at the Arts Theatre

Theatre has always been used to initiate conversation, debate and thought. Reflecting its contemporary society, the theatre has been a place for writers and artists to explore themes affecting the outside world and, through the medium of live performance, seek to find reason and understanding.

There is no shortage of performance that seek to examine political or social issues. Recently we have seen a timely production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse. Lenny Henry’s portrayal of Brecht’s Chicago Gangster had overtones of Hitler, the original source material for the play, and Donald Trump. The National Theatre’s My Country: A Work in Progress, has just completed a national tour after a stint in London. A verbatim play on the issues arising from Britain leaving the European Union, the play looks at all sides of the argument and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. In terms of social issues, David Baddiel’s run at the Playhouse has just drawn to a close. His revival of My Family: Not the Sitcom seeks to find understanding in the death of a parent and the on-going dementia suffered by another. Not the recipe for comedy, right? Wrong. What Baddiel did so brilliantly is paint a portrait of his deceased mother, a human portrait, and remember her for who she was, foibles and all. The same with his father’s condition requiring 24-hour care. He has found a way to cope with the unfairness that is old age and the inevitability of death and that is to celebrate life and help others in similar situations.

Similarly, Rotterdam, which has just opened at the Arts Theatre to a wave of 5 star reviews and deserved standing ovations, seeks to use theatre to provoke thought and conversation on the topic of transitioning. According the programme notes the writer, John Brittain, wrote the play after the realisation that, having seen some his friends transition, there ‘were barley any trans narratives on stage or screen’.

The play follows a lesbian couple, Fiona and Alice. It’s New Year’s Eve in Rotterdam where they have been living together for the last seven years. Alice is finally about to come out to her parents (via email) when Fiona informs her that she wishes to transition and be known as Adrian. Adrian’s story charts the ups and down encountered from acceptance by his parents and strangers, to confusion projected from his girlfriend and verbal abuse in the street.

Alice struggles to deal with the situation, partly due to questions over her own sexuality but also because of a lack of understanding. It seems that Alice reflects the majority of society in struggling to find the right vocabulary. This is unknown ignorance. Alice does not mean to be hurtful or spiteful through choosing wrong words, names and pronouns but, as a human, she is a creature of habit and it is difficult for her to change overnight. It is then how she deals with the mistakes that become important.

Neither Alice nor Adrian are innocent parties, both lacking understanding from the other person’s point of view. Adrian becomes angry and violent, Alice too inward focused and self-absorbed. What they are lacking is dialogue between each other to seek understanding and move forward.

And that is what Brittain has provided here, a dialogue with many different permutations worked through. Rotterdam will help audiences to understand that transitioning is different for every individual and there is no one path. What the play shows is that communication, education and understanding are the best ways to support those who are transitioning. Support for the LGBTQIA+ community needs to come, not just from friends and family, but society as a whole. Changes, such as use of pronouns and introduction of gender neutral bathrooms in all public buildings (after all, they are gender neutral at home, aren’t they?) are small, simply things we as a collective can do but it will make a huge difference.

Rotterdam is only at the Arts Theatre until July 15th. Be sure to get a ticket and see this outstanding, funny, touching play that will be sure to go down in history alongside the likes of Angels in America and Beautiful Thing.

Get your Rotterdam tickets here.

Tags:

ComedyDramaContemporaryCritic's ChoiceLGBT Gay FriendlyEducational
Harrison Fuller

Theatre manager, writer, maker.

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