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FringeReview UK 2019


Hartshorn-Hook Productions

Genre: Contemporary, Dark Comedy, Drama, LGBTQ, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

It’s the same creatives as 2017. Donnacadh O’Briain directs, in a colourful boxed-in prosc-arch set again by Ellan Parry. Keegan Curran’s sound blasts too loudly to begin with, but settles into Kraftwerk. Juri Nael’s choreography suggests Rotterdam’s inhabitants and Bob Leonard’s fight direction ripples through several crises. Till April 10th then continues touring.


Alice hesitates over spellcheck; Fiona says send and you win the bet. It remains a saved draft. Who’ll send it releases the denouement and it will surprise you.


In between lies a rainbow of indecision. Jon Brittain’s 2017 Olivier-winning Rotterdam isn’t just about coming out, which that email’s about; it asks what a young woman does when after seven years in Rotterdam her lover suddenly announces she wants to transition to a man called Adrian when she herself hasn’t even come out to her parents.


Oh and Alice’s male ex, sweet empathic Josh whom she came to Rotterdam (reluctantly) to evade, had come straight over after her; and his sister. Who’s Fiona, though not for long. And there’s this hot girl of 21 at work, Lelani (Ellie Morris reprising her role) who hits on Alice, who’s only slept with a brother and a sister.


Sounds a bit Polly Stenham or early Ella Hickson, if you’ve seen them; but it really, really isn’t. It’s a single-issue play with a crackling script directed straight at the train of hurt and consequences when a woman decides she’s not a lesbian but a straight man. And her lover’s long decided men aren’t for her.


It’s the same creatives as 2017. Donnacadh O’Briain’s revival surpasses even his original production. Either way, coming to it first time it’ll hit every note you felt possible, in a boxed-in prosc-arch set again by Ellan Parry with a small interior functioning as quick-change rooms and with Richard Williamson’s lighting suggesting at one point a chilly outdoors with a canal. Infectious colour on a white background with exits and apertures, dry ice and intensely-lit coloured spaces beyond the space littered with multi-purpose tables and a moment of blue balloons. Keegan Curran’s sound blasts too loudly to begin with, but settles into Kraftwerk and the most delicate washes of sound at crucial moments. Juri Nael’s choreography suggests Rotterdam’s inhabitants (Lelani particularly) and Bob Leonard’s fight direction ripples through several crises.


Though Morris reprises her boppy straight-Dutch-talking hedonist Lelani, the other three are new. Everyone’s consummate: Elijah W Harris’ gentle straight-talking Josh, straddling himself across scenes of excruciating decency; Beth Cullinane’s havering Alice rises to a paean of expressiveness when her own rights seems dimmed in the face of Lucy Jane Parkinson’s marvellous Fiona/Adrian, a powerhouse of vulnerability stalled hurt and furious invective, even violence slanting to tenderness.


The finest scenes are those between Parkinson and Cullinane, years of love twisted to accusations of betrayal, of all kinds, when choices are made and each is left behind by the other. The script’s superb at flinching wit to laughter and a spasm of recognition. It explores Fiona/Adrian’s single-minded eruption of selfhood (Adrian is what Fiona would have been called after her grandfather, had she like her brother Josh been born a boy).


There’s enough colour too: Lelani’s role apart from providing another choice resides in the way she blows in Rottderdam with her: fireworks on New Year’s Eve; orange on King’s Day (Dutch Royal celebrations). Plot pointed neatly ratchets up around festivity, demanding you realise yourself when the world parties. Taking – like other things – orange literally, Alice turns up ‘as if she’s been tango’d’ in orange. yet it presages heartbreak. And a break of opportunity.


There’s some painfully funny moments: that orange scene when Lelani shows up and instead of a disaster of Alice not mentioning either of her lover’s names Adrian takes his maleness for granted. But when Lelani meets Adrian’s ‘cis’ brother Josh she recoils: ‘pity about the hands’ assuming he’d been born a woman.


Morris and Harris are terrific. The night belongs as it must, to Cullinane’s gradual build-up to release and permission, and Parkinson’s pressure-cooked identity. They’re spellbinding: Parkinson is achingly convincing too as she shifts her being and more importantly, breaks her heart. And ours. Rotterdam’s an outstanding play about sexual identity, choices, and above all what it means to transition. Or even start to. With just three performances before its next leg, you have to see it.