Nottingham New Theatre’s production of Jon Britton’s Rotterdam is a bold, well-executed exploration of some of the rarely-seen difficulties faced by those in the gender transitioning process, as well as their loved ones. Backed by the Nottingham LGBTQ+ society, this play deals with sensitive and highly relevant social issues in a frank, empathetic manner which really serves it well.
The script is solid, weaving profundity with the humour and absurdity of modern life, and the structure of the play really helps to maximise the understanding and emotional response of the audience. With a play such as this, it is easy to become intimidated by handling such a hot topic, with such an intensely vocal, critical public ever-ready to viciously tear apart anything which does not conform to their arbitrarily complex personal worldview.
“I was presented with things I had not previously considered”
Yet, the direction and acting within the New Theatre’s imagining of the play is unflinching; the perspectives within the play are offered boldly, and they are counterbalanced with opposing views. From this opposition emerges an almost dialectical set of conclusions in the mind of the viewer. I found my own perspectives challenged as I sat in the audience; I was presented with things I had not previously considered, as well as ideas I had grappled with, all presented through a cohesive back-and-forth.
This rational debate tries to make sense of, and reinforce an empathetic understanding for people facing the difficulties of changing sexual identity. What was so good about this was that it did not emptily attempt to express the virtue of – for example – trans people. Often, works promoting the lives of ostracised groups tend to portray their marginalised characters as wholly good, a patronising attempt to advocate their social value. This play aims for something more; something real. And it achieves this exceptionally well.
“The play is more than an attempt to rally support”
The trans character, Adrian/Fiona, is presented as complex, difficult and destructive. The play is more than an attempt to rally support for a valid social cause; the support is already ascertained by the fact that what is shown on stage feels so truthful, and inherently human.
Because of this, the impact was so much greater, and those with less awareness of the plight facing LGBTQ+ people in our society today will find themselves able to empathise and engage on a deeper level than simply reading up on the topic. This could not have been achieved so well had it not been for the acting talent on display, particularly that of Lara Cowler, as Fiona/Adrian, whose performance was extremely convincing in its subtlety and emotional sophistication.
“The supporting cast captured an often-forgotten element of the transition process:”
the difficulties of adjustment faced by loved ones, even those who try hard to make the process easier. Adrian’s girlfriend and brother were portrayed with a true feeling of love towards Adrian, but I could really feel the frustration and pain as they tried their best to accommodate Adrian’s new identity while meeting the complexities that are inherent in such a transition, and with such high emotional stakes.
The few shortcomings of the play lay in a few moments of overacting, which broke the illusion of realism at times, and also the choice of music. While I applaud the use of the Netherlands’ pop music to contribute to a realistic setting, the tone of the music immediately following a number of scenes was at odds with the tension of the preceding moments.
Though clashing tones can often contribute to an interesting feeling of purposeful dissonance, this particular usage did not achieve such an effect, and it was mildly destructive of the established atmosphere.
“We need plays like Rotterdam”
Regardless, the play was easily able to recover from this minor shortfall, and the resultant performance was a highly memorable, effective realisation of the playwright’s vision. In a world where bigotry is seemingly ever-present, we need plays like Rotterdam, performed at such high standards, to continue to build empathy and understanding and to fight ignorance in such honest and meaningful ways.
Images courtesy of NNT Facebook Page