Rotterdam

March 26, 2019

 

 

When director Donacadh O’Briain first came across Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam in a pile of scripts still to be read at new writing hub Theatre 503, he knew he had found something special. The story is, at heart, a simple one: Alice is finally about to come out to her parents when her long-term girlfriend Fiona announces that she is transgender and wants to transition to live as Adrian. What follows is a wry and bittersweet exploration of identity, sexuality and love. “It just kept making me cry,”

 

says O’Briain. “Even when I read it out loud with other people I would keep having these moments when I had to stop and pretend I was about to cough or something. I was very affected by it. I found myself really fascinated by these people and the difficulty of their situation.”


Brittain, who also wrote cult hit show Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho and the Fringe First Award-winning A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) was inspired to write Rotterdam after a friend transitioned from female to male when they were both in their 20s. The same friend later acted as a script consultant on the production, along with input from many other people from the trans community. “The storyline is a very central theme in the lives of trans people – it’s a difficult situation for a lot of couples. But there are elements of universality too because it’s a story about what happens to a couple when something major enters their relationship; it could be a child or an affair. It’s essentially about whether a couple can survive something really difficult.”


Rotterdam premiered at Theatre 503 in 2015 and transferred to New York and then the West End before winning an Olivier award in 2017. Does O’Briain feel it was the right play at the right time? “To me it seemed like a real story about real people but one that wasn’t being presented. When you see that, it’s always a play for now because it must mean a story is being sidelined or censored in some way. But it became apparent as we approached the production that there was a shift in the movement towards recognition of trans people and in the level of understanding about what it means to be trans. I felt we were in a position to not just be seen as a fringe event but as part of a much bigger conversation.”


It is now touring the UK, including a stint at Brighton’s Theatre Royal. Touring is important, says O’Briain: “Because these are characters in a situation that is not one people understand as everyday. We’ve seen such positive things happening when people have watched it in London and in New York and we aspire to create the same feelings and changes in people’s outlook on the tour but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

 

Theatre Royal Brighton, April 8–10

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