Theatre503 has become my favourite theatre at the moment simply because it keeps putting on intelligent and exciting plays like Rotterdam. At first glance the subject, a gay couple one of whom announces that they want to transgender, is not one that naturally appeals to me but clearly that is a situation which is likely to be very emotional and that I do like. I also had the reputation of Theatre503 to rely on.
I had booked two weeks' holiday in the middle of the run and so, not for the first time, the only performance that I could get to was the very last one. That was on a Saturday evening and only 24 hours after I got back from Delhi so the play would have to fight against my residual jet lag.
But first I had to eat. The plan was the usual one, i.e. to eat in The Latchmere beneath the theatre, but there was no room at that inn so I had to go elsewhere. Luckily The Lighthouse was just along the road and I had been there before and knew it was ok. Unfortunately the food service was bad and while my soup came quickly, as it should, I had to wait far to long for my mushrooms on toast. In the end I had to bolt my food, leave a little bit of it behind, and rush back to the theatre for the 7:45pm start.
When I got there the theatre was already open (that had never happened before) but I was lucky and, despite being sold out, there was still a space in the middle of the front row.
As is the trend, there was an actor on the stage already. This was Alice working at her computer. While we waited for the performance to formally start we also met a young woman dolling herself up for a night out and a thirtysomething man also get ready but with less flair. There preparations were performed to loud dance music. Hovering in the background quietly was the fourth cast member, a boyish looking young woman who was later identified as Alice's girlfriend Fiona.
They are in Rotterdam, a place that neither of them likes to the extent that they talk of moving to Hull, but work and inertia has kept them there. The email that Alice was working so hard on was to her parents explaining that she is gay, which they did not know even though she had been living with Fiona as a couple for some time. To complicate things, prior to that she had been going out with Fiona's older brother Josh, who worked in IT and looked as though he did.
The main pivot of the play was Fiona's announcement that she was going to stop pretending to be a woman and to start living as a man. After the interval she was a he and was called Adrian (after her Grandfather). In contrast to Alice, Adrian tells her parents the news and they take it very well.
Fiona becoming Adrian left Alice living with a man and questioning whether she really was gay. She tested this with her young drug-taking colleague and proved she was. It all became a little complicated.
The situation was pretty strange but the characters were not and they were what made the play so enthralling. Fiona/Adrian had the most confused situation but was handling it well. The young woman, Lelani, found fun where she could and was street-wise enough to fight off her boss's advances. Josh worked in IT. That left Alice at the heart of everything, unsure if she was gay, not confident about telling her parents, not sure how to cope with Fiona/Adrian, tempted by Lelani and wanting something better than Rotterdam.
One favourite moment of mine was a scene change where Alice was in a strop and she carried this on during the change, moving objects violently and then stomping off stage. An excellent performance from Alice McCarthy.
I also had a soft spot for Jessica Clark as Lelani. Not only did she play the brash and confident young women well, including having a decent Dutch accent, but I was able to contrast this with the more demure roles I had seen her in at the Orange Tree Theatre.
To add cream to the strawberries we even had a few touches of Kraftwerk, Pocket Calculator and Europe Endless (twice). Sadly we also had Rotterdam by The Beautiful South but no play is perfect.
Rotterdam was lots of things. At times it was emotional, funny, depressing and intense, but it was always slick, always intelligent, always entertaining and always surprising. Even the ending, such as it was, came unexpectedly. I loved everything about it.