Rotterdam

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every once in while a play comes along that really strikes the right chord, one that you would encourage as many people as possible to go and see, writer Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is that play!

First performed in 2015, this Olivier Award winning play offers an honest, raw portrayal of gender dysphoria and the impact that it can have not just on the individual but their loved ones as well.

Set in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, a vibrant port town where people come and go as much as the cargo that passes through its docks; however, this isn’t the case for Alice (Rebecca Banatvala) and her partner Fiona (Lucy Jane Parkinson).

The pair have been living there for seven years now, with both trying to come to terms with who they are. It’s New Years Eve and Alice has finally decided to come out as gay to her parents, with much encouragement from Fiona. However, before Alice undertakes this brave step, Fiona also has a confession to make that she wishes to be recognised as a man and would like to be called Adrian from now on.

This revelation has a huge impact on the pair and their relationship as Adrian seeks acknowledgement from a world that he sees will not accept him as a man, whilst Alice questions her own sexuality. Through their journey of discovery, the pair are supported by Lelani, (Stella Taylor) Alice’s free-spirited work colleague, who has more than friendship on her mind as it pertains to Alice. Making up the quartet, is Josh (Paul Heath) Fiona/Adrian’s brother who is also the former boyfriend of Alice.

This could so easily fall into a ‘preachy’ message driven play about transgender issues, instead focusing on the impact Adrian’s decision to transition impacts on those around him. The script handles its subject intelligently and sensitively, whilst pulling no punches. There are moments of levity throughout with some sharp, funny throw away lines.

The cast under Donnacadh O’ Brian, skilful direction are superb, with Parkinson giving a raw at times feral turn as Adrian: filled with conflict and heartbreak. Whilst Banatvala is also outstanding giving a more restrained but no less gut-wrenching turn as Alice. Both Taylor and Heath are on good form in their supporting roles, with the pair turning in great comedic performances, demonstrating a gift for timing and delivery.

There are some plot contrivances that test plausibility, such as Josh’s decision to stick around despite losing the women he loves to his sibling, but this is a minor quibble on what is a weighty, heartfelt, powerful piece of theatre that will make you laugh and may even cause you to get the odd bit of sand in your eye too.

Transgender issues despite having some media coverage are still hugely unrepresented. Productions like Rotterdam are much needed and important to help educate and hopefully create more positive conversations. This however is not the shows key drawing power, that comes because it is a beautifully told story about the struggles of relationships and real life that will resonate with us all.

Rotterdam is at the Manchester Opera House till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

Closets

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Written by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Neil Ely, Closets is an emotive and colourfully courageous journey of self-discovery, strength and celebration.

It’s 1988 and 16 year old Henry (Sam Redford) is struggling to express freely who he is for fear of his bolshy Mum’s (Hayley Tamaddon) refusal to accept his sexuality. In a desperate bid to disappear and escape the daily battles Henry steps inside his closet, travelling forward in time to the very same bedroom 20 years later where he finds shy, tormented Ben (Lloyd Daniels). The year may be different but the difficulties are the same. So begins a coming-of-age journey of exploration as Hope Mill Theatre becomes the scene of the 1969 Stone Wall Riots, Ben’s school toilets and modern day Manchester as the boys travel through time experiencing life defining moments along the way.

Closets is a cleverly constructed, deeply emotive and heart-warmingly joyful piece of theatre. The story touches on many relatable themes such as bullying, suicide and first love as we are swept along on a rollercoaster on emotions. The lovingly crafted script focusses not only on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community but examines changing attitudes across the years in an honest and relatable way.

Sam Retford is exceptional as Henry, hard to believe this is his musical debut; his performance is confident and assured, engaging the audience entirely. Complementing Retford perfectly is X-Factor’s Lloyd Daniels, as the quiet but tormented Ben whose heartfelt delivery of Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan and Jack Bennetts lyrics packs an emotional punch.

Hayley Tammerdon shines as Henry’s Mum Susan, confused and angry she gives an honest & engaging portrayal of a mother who is ultimately scared of losing her son. Adding many delightful slices of humour is the sensational Sophie Ellicott, she brings genuine wit and laugh out loud joy to the production, her delivery of Protection is a real highlight of the show.

Special mention must also go to powerhouse Kim Tatum, her soulful delivery and witty one-lines add further depth and poignancy to the story.

Ashley M A Walsh’s score creates the perfect soundtrack to this relevant and thought-provoking journey through both hostile and happy times. The 13 original songs ranging from up beat pop numbers to contemporary ballads evoke the sounds of the 80’s perfectly. While Joseph Thomas perfectly lights William Whelton’s punchy choreography.

Closets strikes the perfect balance, delivering both humour and powerful drama, highs are beautifully woven into emotion lows ensuring the story is told with sensitivity and real heart. There is little to criticise here, a quickening up of a couple of scene changes and some tightening tweaks here and there would very quickly take this already brilliant show to the next level, but none of this affects your enjoyment of this uplifting piece of theatre in which the message of love and loving freely is strong, powerful and perfectly judged.

Closets is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Thursday 23rd August, tickets available here.

Dancing Bear

Dancing Bear 1 credit Matt Tullett

Opening Night Verdict

As part of the Queer Contact Festival 2018, Jamie Fletcher & Company and Contact bring their dramatized musical, Dancing Bear to Manchester’s Palace theatre for two nights ahead of further dates at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in April.

Conceived by director/musician Jamie Fletcher and writer/musician Beccy Owen, Dancing Bear is an unflinchingly provocative piece of theatre which examines the navigation of daily life for many LGBTQ+ individuals while focussing on their individual challenges and fight for inclusivity, acceptance and a sense of spiritual peace in whatever forms that may take.

Each member of the company is given time and space to deliver their story, ensuring from the start we see each person as an entirely unique and special being. Stories are shared, some happy some painfully sad, offering an opportunity to reflect and consider our own views and experiences. A wonderful addition to the show is the inclusion of Katie, a BSL Interpreter who is wholly part of the company and who testifies like each other cast member.

Dancing Bear 2 credit Matt Tullett

The honest and personal testimonies are interwoven with an inspired piece of poetry in which we see the Dancing Bear move through various animal communities in a bid to find his people after being banished by his family; he yearns for somewhere he feels safe, loved, accepted and free to be the person he knows he truly is inside.

Whilst the show implores you to question and explore it also entertains enormously, with superb original songs and powerful contemporary dance in addition to the real-life stories, there is a wonderful cabaret vibe to the production. There is no preaching, nor pushing of an agenda other than delivering a message illustrating the importance of love and acceptance. The glorious array of individuals on stage wonderfully demonstrates our strength as individuals lies in acceptance and the grace to embrace difference in all its forms. In exploring faith it becomes wonderfully clear that to each individual God can be exactly what they want God to be, a powerful being in which faith can be placed. Poignant, provocative and an opportunity to find our own inner peace & spirituality on our own terms, conclusions need not be drawn as we celebrate the uniqueness of each other.

On at the Palace theatre 8pm this evening tickets can be found here.