Brittain’s bittersweet comedy about gender and sexuality tells the story of Alice, who wants to come out as a lesbian and her girlfriend wants to start living as a man. Alice has finally plucked up the courage to email her parents and tell them she’s gay. But before she can hit send, her girlfriend reveals that he has always identified as a man and now wants to start living as one.
We caught up with director Donnacadh O’Briain, who talks about success at Theatre503 and transgender on stage.
- Describe Rotterdam in 3 words.
Big-hearted. Beautiful. Funny.
- How did you come across the play?
I asked Theatre503 to send me the best plays they had that they couldn’t produce themselves, and after five pretty good scripts I found Rotterdam. I loved it from the first read. I read it on my own, and with a few friends and was a bit thrown by the fact that this great piece of comic writing made me cry every time I read it out loud with someone.
- Did you anticipate it would be so well received at Theatre503 or was that a nice surprise?
I did. I’ve never been more sure of a new play. I knew that if we got it right we’d have a hit on our hands. Of course when it comes down to it you still have all the usual mix of hopes and fears… It was a huge relief when people laughed all the way through the first performance, and a wonderful thing when people were genuinely moved. Then the tweets and reviews started to come in, and pretty quickly we could confidently say we had a hit.
- It must be great to be back with the same cast…
It’s fantastic! They’re a great bunch, and they love doing it, and I love watching them do it. They’ve all been off doing other things, some of which I’m managed to get to see, but we’ve all been waiting patiently to see if dates would firm up for this transfer and it would have taken something very big to keep any of them away, they have a real passion for the story and their characters.
- What do you think audiences related to most in Rotterdam?
Probably the break-up story, and the turmoil around what you do when the person you love most in the world isn’t the person you need them to be anymore. Jon manages to tap into something very universal there, even in this context that is outside most of our experiences.
- Do you think the theatre scene is crying out for more plays on transgender?
We’ll have arrived when transgender characters can be in stories not specifically about that facet of their identity. Rotterdam is really a play about people not being ‘out’ about who they are, gender and sexuality are a part of that theme. But it does give the experience of transition centre stage, whilst developing that theme more broadly. (It’s really funny too… beacuse people are funny)
- Is there anything you have changed for the transfer to Trafalgar Studios?
We’ll restage some of it, as it’s a different shape, and we’ll need to settle into the particular vibe of Traf2. It’s even more intimate than 503, which will suit the show very well.
- What’s next for you?
I’m about to start rehearsals for a new play for the RSC – Always Orange by Fraser Grace. It’s a cracking script, and we’re opening the new Other Place in Stratford this Summer, which is a real honour.