Rotterdam at Trafalgar Studios review: A touching and laugh-out-loud comedy about being transgender

Melissa York
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Alice McCarthy as Alice and Anna Martine as Fiona/Adrian

“Rotterdam is anywhere/anywhere alone” sang The Beautiful South back in the days of Britpop.

Anywhere is right: the Dutch port city acts not only as a setting for this West End transfer, but also as a metaphor for transition, a halfway house where no one feels they truly belong.

The story follows three British expats who are all undergoing an identity crisis. Alice moved to the city seven years previously for a job with her boyfriend Josh, but the relationship ended after she fell for his sister Fiona.

At the start of the play, everyone seems to be coping fairly well, considering, and Alice is dithering about whether to send an email to her parents explaining that she now fancies women. That is, until Fiona throws a rather large spanner in the works by announcing that she’s actually a man. “I don’t want to become a man,” she says, “I just want to stop trying to be a woman.”

Read more: Heart-rending tales from LGBT refugees at the Young Vic

While uptight Alice tears herself apart over what exactly it is she’s attracted to, Josh hovers around the edges, supporting his sister but still nursing the wounds Alice inflicted when she left.

It sounds angst-ridden but it’s actually laugh out loud funny. Writer Jon Brittain has a great ear for the teasing asides that pepper couples’ conversation and, whenever things start to get too heavy, he throws in some well-timed, biting sarcasm.

Alice McCarthy’s performance as Alice anchors the production, turning a surreal situation into something relatable; while she plays the straight character – for want of a better term – she elicits the biggest laughs. This might be the first great comedy about transgenderism.

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