THEATRE REVIEW: Rotterdam ★★★★★

Birmingham Rep Theatre
Monday 20th May 2019

In Rotterdam, on the Eve Eve of New Year's, Alice (Rebecca Banatvala) is nervous as she drafts an email to send to her parents back home in the UK to open up about her sexuality and tell them that she likes women. It's a massive deal for her, and with her girlfriend Fiona's (Lucy Jane Parkinson) help, though 'a bit gay', she's almost ready to send it off before she backs out. It's the beginning to a rather rollercoaster production full of tears, tantrums, and laughs, but most importantly a story of love and acceptance, not just for those affected in a romantic way, but in an educational sense where Alice has a lot of doubts and questions.

From the moment you step foot into the auditorium to take your seats, the pre-show action on stage is compelling. On one side of the room there's Alice with her laptop, where Fiona occasionally peeps in to spy on her girlfriends words on the screen, it's naturalistic and pure, but then on the other side of the stage we have occasionally bursts of entertainment of performance from Lelani (Stella Taylor), a work colleague of Alice's, and finally Josh (Paul Heath), the brother of Fiona, where both him and Lelani are getting ready for what looks to be a night out. It's this were we are introduced to snapshots of our new friends world's which we are about to be thrown into a fraction of, something director Donnacadh O'Briain excels at with no stopping with adrenaline pretty much throughout the majority of the whole performance. His use of staging with these characters is confident, and the way he presents a story within the scene changes, though they do drag at times a little longer than necessary, does add an element of engagement and a more visually path for us as the audience to keep engaged with.

Parkinson and Banatvala are both incredibly powerful within their stage time together, where their scenes for me will be the lasting memories of from the evening. Parkinson especially brings a fresh element and is clearly passionate about their character, whilst Banatvala ever let's slip her characters traits and is a joy to witness on stage as she completely hooks the audience's as well as fundamentally as a character teaches not only herself but us along at the same time the facts of gender reassignment, the main topic of conversation that occurs in Rotterdam. With Act One to Two jumping forward around 6 months, the effects that this has on our characters is astonishing, which is a testimony to Jon Britain's writing and the creative choices that we see on stage. The foreword from Brittain in the programme is sentimental and gives a more reasoning on why he chose to write this play, for the simple matter of never seeing a story like this, and I completely agree!

Though some lighting choices and sound elements could be seen as off-putting throughout, with no real blend to background and action happening on stage, the whole effort from this extraordinary team is so blinding on stage especially from designer Ellan Parry, who has crafted a multifunctional set which though compact delivers in waves symbolism and powerful elements just in some simple moments.

Overall, Rotterdam is a production that I truly believe more than any show I've seen this year should be seen by everyone. As our country and our peers around us fear to change in a different political and sexual climate, Rotterdam is a stable example of those who believe rightly to defy those who want to contradict and abolish our beliefs and feelings, and does so with so much clarity and commitment, that I fully congratulate all involved on a stunning, formal, and educational piece of theatre suitable for all!


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