18 April 2019
Rotterdam is a queer play but not for queer audiences, says Liam Rees
Near the beginning of Rotterdam one of the characters says something along the lines of: don’t be polite – be honest. And in my honest opinion Rotterdam is a play about queerness, but it is not for queer people. By all means, I’d send my well-intentioned parents to see it for a lesson of 'What Not To Do When Someone You Love Comes Out As Trans' but anyone questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation should avoid it with a ten-foot pole.
Briefly, Alice and Fiona have been together for 7 years, Alice is on the verge of coming out to her parents until she discovers that Fiona is trans and wants to start living as Adrian. A great setup for a complex exploration of queer identities and relationships with a deeply disappointing result. However, as a gay cis man I don’t feel like the right person to untangle the script’s problematic exploration of queerness. Additionally, we’re at the National Student Drama Festival – the focus should be Nottingham New Theatre’s production rather than an analysis of an established playwright’s script.
The company do a decent job with some astoundingly clunky dialogue, Maddy Strauss as Alice proves to be a particularly convincing anxious and socially awkward disaster lesbian. Lara Cowler brings deft details to their performance as Fiona/Adrian with their physicality subtly shifting throughout the evening as the hormone treatment progresses. It’s unfortunate that the staging limits the actors’ potential – unnecessarily long black-outs kill the pace and force the actors to build up the atmosphere from scratch in each scene. Additionally with a script so laden with exposition – where is the play set again? Rotterdam? Oh you moved here to Rotterdam? Yes, I love it here in Rotterdam! – the audience doesn’t need a visual cue from the projection to spell it all out for us.
In the end, I’m not sure what Rotterdam (both the script and this production) adds to the conversation. At NSDF I’m not sure who it’s meant to be for.
Image credit: Beatrice Debney