lovers

Lost in love: Bethan Cullinane as Alice and Lucy Jane Parkinson as Adrian. Pictures: Helen Maybanks

Rotterdam

Wolverhampton Grand

****

So, Alice is a lesbian and has been living more or less happily with her teacher lover Fiona in Rotterdam for seven years – the only problem is that she hasn’t come out as gay.

Or more specifically, she hasn’t told her parents, and so as New Year approaches, she decides to tell them in an email . . . or maybe not.

After much soul searching, endless spellchecking and keyboard dithering Alice is about to press send when Fiona, who came out years ago, decides to . . . well come out again, this time as a man.

In fact Adrian, as Fiona now wants to be called, has always thought of himself as a man, a man born in a woman’s body and as he tells his shocked lover “No. Alice I don’t want to become a man, I just want to stop trying to be a woman.”.

Now that presents an immediate dilemma for Alice. If her lover is really a man, albeit in a woman’s body, does that mean she is really straight? A hasbian?

Then there is the third side to this love tangle . . . sorry triangle, Josh. Now Josh was Alice’s boyfriend, and followed her to Rotterdam, working in the IT department of the same shipping company as his lover.

That is until his baby sister Fiona came to stay . . . you can see where this is going . . . and Alice left him for Fiona.

Josh still adores Alice and accepts and loves his gay sister – except now she is his little brother which takes a little getting used to. 

josh

Letting the world drift by, Elijah W Harris as Josh

Then just to complicate things further we have Lelani, 21, Dutch, with legs that never seem to end and oozing sexuality from every pore. She is gay, a party girl with an endless supply of weed, and she wants to party with Alice.

Director Donnacadh O’Briain gives it the air of a sitcom, or a French farce on designer Ellan Parry’s clever setting of a busy, modern appartment, and with Jon Brittain’s intelligent script there are plenty of laughs, but above all it is a very human story even down to the tiny details that make up relationships, such as when Adrian is thinking of trying on a binder to flatten his breasts and Alice adds "as long as it doesn't set off your eczema".

Being gay or transgender is not the easiest path in society but Rotterdam treats both with equal dignity and empathy, no one is seen as weird. It might not be a life most of us are familiar with but Brittain and O’Briain give it an air of normality. These are just people facing changing situations and it is a play, as much as anything, about love in all its forms – and the trials and tribulations it faces.

There is Josh’s enduring love for Alice, deeply sad at the end when he is finally moving on, both physically and mentally, and he tells her he will do anything for her . . . “so please don’t ask.”

He has a line of amusing patter, weak jokes, and fumbles around in an unfamiliar world, yet has unquestioning love and total acceptance, a lovely, underplayed performance by Elijah W Harris.

There is Alice who loved a woman who now says she is a man. It is the same body but is it the same person, the person she loves?

Alice is tied to convention, even her moment of rebellion is qualified when she decides on the spur of the moment to walk out and go home to England to tell her parents. “Fuck work!” she declares triumphantly, quickly adding "I mean I'll probably take compassionate leave. And I'll have to come back to work out my notice period."

Bethan Cullinane’s Alice, is, in truth, fairly straight laced, even her delightfully funny lines are delivered in a matter of fact way. You feel her life is compartmentalised and when Fiona breaks out of her box, coping becomes a challenge.

lelani

Ellie Morris as Lelani provides a distraction for a confused and angry Alice

Her dilemma is not one most of us will ever face yet we become so involved as an audience that we feel for her. It is a wonderful performance with a final emotional soliloquy which is both moving and sad.

Then there is Adrian, an in-yer-face superb performance from Lucy Jane Parkinson. Adrian is someone occupying a woman’s body yet whose dream is to be seen and accepted as a man – his delight when Lelani mistakes him for Josh is boundless, just as his despair when Alice tells him she doesn’t love Adrian, she loves Fiona reaches uncharted depths.

There is a moving scene when Alice walks out and Adrian explodes into a rage of frustration, and in a drunken fury rips off his men’s clothes and dons a dress in a forlorn hope of winning her back – finally collapsing in tears into Josh’s arms.

Fiona, now Adrian is the bolshie one, yet beneath the aggressive exterior is a helplessness, a confusion, a feeling he is a lost soul trying to find his way in a hostile world, railing against anyone who still sees him as a woman, yet missing the obvious when he is finally seen as a man – how he is seen in the mind of Alice.

Finally Lelani, coming out as gay at 10, supremely self-assured, outgoing, yet behind her outward confidence there lies a vulnerability and need. She is a diversion for Alice, a familiar comfort outside her now unfamiliar relationship. Ellie Morris brings a sexually charged life to the part, finally leaving for a new life in Amsterdam, a life you suspect will end in self-destruction.

There is one intriguing moment when Lelani is in New Year’s Eve party mood and the stage is filled with balloons, all blue . . . apart from one, single pink balloon. I offer no explanation, but it was intriguing.

Scene changes are a show in themselves with pulsating electronic dance music and the cast appearing as stage hands with moves all of their own, sound, from Keegan Curran, being an integral part, with faint noises off during outdoor scenes, while Richard Williamson's lighting helped create variety on what was in essence a single set given new location by lighting and moved furniture.

Brittain doesn’t go into any great depth, there is no angst over possible surgery, no great debate, no answers offered, no approval or disapproval, just a what if situation - what if your partner is not who you thought they were? What if your world comes crashing down around your ears? It is all part of the human story, sympathetically told in a bittersweet comedy that will provide you with laughs, sadness and plenty to think about. To 24-04-19.

Roger Clarke

22-04-19

Rotterdam will be at Birmingham Rep (Studio) 20-22 May and Malvern 23-25 May 

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