Theatre, Comedy
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 (© Piers Foley)
© Piers Foley

Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine

 (© Piers Foley)
© Piers Foley

Ed Eales-White, Anna Martine and Alice McCarthy

 (© Piers Foley)
© Piers Foley

Jessica Clark and Alice McCarthy

 (© Piers Foley)
© Piers Foley

Alice McCarthy and Anna Martine

 (© Piers Foley)
© Piers Foley

Jessica Clark and Alice McCarthy

Affecting drama about a lesbian couple facing big life decisions

'Rotterdam' will transfer to the Arts Theatre in June 2017. This review is from the 2015 run at Theatre503. 

Congrats, millennials, I think we’ve made it. This tender little gem from ‘Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’ writer Jon Brittain is about a lesbian couple, one of whom reveals she’s transgender. And it’s the most normal thing in the world. It doesn’t ogle or leer, it doesn’t present Alice and Fiona as weird or anomalous. It humanises and empathises – and forces its audience to do the same.

It’s New Year’s Eve in Rotterdam. Alice (Alice McCarthy) is about to come out to her parents, while Fiona (Anna Martine) has a bigger bombshell to drop. Dutch partygoer Lelani (Jessica Clark) helps Alice open up and smoke weed, like some gay-manic-pixie-dream-girl.

Brittain has written four wonderful characters, the central couple giving McCarthy and Martine the chance to put in two powerful performances. Alice is nervy and neurotic, Fiona stony and cynical.

Martine plays Fiona as a firecracker who, in becoming Adrian, is suddenly forced to be vulnerable, to be scrutinised and re-assessed by all his friends even when he’s not sure what he’s doing himself.

While the play sensitively probes the difficulties of being gay and of being transgender, Brittain never lets the seriousness drown out the humour. Laughter comes particularly from Ed Eales-White’s sweet and innocent Josh, Fiona’s brother, a brilliant comic aside in what could otherwise be a po-faced work.

Brittain’s play is another reminder – warm, witty and wise – of the stupidity of thinking that there are only two genders. He has an eye for tenderness, like two women sharing smoke from a joint, and an ear for the undulations of couples’ conversations.

Even if only on a small Battersea stage, it’s great to see trans issues getting not only more exposure (just look at the wonderful Rebecca Root in BBC 2’s recent sitcom ‘Boy Meets Girl’) but more respect too.

By: Tim Bano


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Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:13
  • 4 star:5
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
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Rotterdam tells the bittersweet story of Alice and Fiona, a lesbian couple navigating the complexities of coming to terms with not only the former's sexuality but also of the latter's questioning of her own gender. What I thought would be a very niche play that could only appeal to those deeply entrenched in the LGBTQ community was actually extremely accessible, funny and incredibly moving.

Despite Fiona's story of transition leading the narrative, it's Alice McCarthy's performance (as Alice) that steals the show. Her anger at points throughout the play is so convincing while her heartfelt monologue leading to the play's climax genuinely reduced me to tears. It's only during the less emotional and more comedic scenes that she struggles slightly, sounding much more scripted and less believable. However, this is where her co-star Anna Martine shines.

I really want to give Rotterdam five stars, but there were a few niggles that stop me from doing so. The character of Lelani, Alice's temptress that creates further friction in an already difficult situation, is meant to be overly confident and larger than life.  But after a few scenes, her OTT behaviour (and Danish accent) really started to grate. The set is extremely diverse and acts as an office, apartment, airport and bar well.  But when doubling as outdoor settings such as a frozen canal, port and rooftop, the Ikea showroom aesthetic is stretched beyond its limits. Despite being genuinely funny and extremely touching throughout, the 110 minute running time is also just a tad too long.

Despite these shortcomings, this story of transition (and everyone it touches) should certainly not be missed. Based on the standing ovation that greeted the final bow, my fellow audience members would agree.

I liked the story and the theme of the play. Found the first half quite uncomfortable with all interactions between characters involving a lot of yelling and like everyone was constantly on 5th gear in how they communicated. I enjoyed the second half of the play more than the first. The content was thought provoking and I liked some of the characters, but would agree on comments below about 'over acting' and that I thought it made the play feel a bit one-dimensional and tiring. Great to have some theatre exploring trans issues from female-to-male perspective!


Rotterdam is a as real and raw as they come!

The play follows the developing relationship of a transgender/homosexual couple; Alice, who is struggling to "come out" to her parents and Fi, who has a loving supportive family but is in the difficult, emotional time of transitioning.

It was sensitively done and the screenplay itself was brilliant, as was the set, music and choice of theatre.

For me, the first half was a bit too shouty, with exaggerated acting and a few jokes that made it a bit cringey. The second half, although very emotional, was a powerful, passionate and emotional - the actors came in to their own.

An enjoyable watch (despite the emotional rollercoaster) that I definitely recommend to others!


A very intense and well done play portraying one's struggle in sexuality and relationships. The play was well written and the staging was simple but worked very well. The actors/actresses were very talented, I could feel Alice and Fiona's struggle of 'coming out', their frustrations with Fiona transgender process which affected their intimacy and eventually broke their relationship. Emotions were very raw but at times there were jokes which lifted us from the rawness. I would totally recommend this play!


Tackling difficult topics with an open mind and a sense of humour, Rotterdam is a play worth watching if you are in the mood for some post-theatre thinking about relationships, love and sexuality. While the acting is good but not superb, and some of the scenes are a bit exaggerated (Alice’s character could do with a little less shouting), the storyline is captivating, the decor and lightning very effective and overall the play works well, making the audience dive into the plot and allowing them to engage with the characters’ emotions.


This play had me in knots. There were so many things happening-- it almost felt a bit contrived. But this is theater! Its fine! I really enjoyed the acting, and the scene changes were phenomenal. The brother added a bit of comedy relief or sexual relief which at times was very needed. This is a play for the book-club people, who like to dissect and analyse and find the hidden meanings and overtones in each scene. It doesnt matter what your sexual preference is, this play shows the inner complications of relationships to its core. 


A modern love story focussing on the complexities of sexualty and identity.  A young couple living in Rotterdam have been dating for several years, but Alice has been avoiding returning home as she is avoiding coming out to her parents.  Just as she's about to do so her girlfriend Fe decides to add a spanner into the works.

The play was well done with strong performances throughout, occasionally it felt a little over acted. It feels like you are voyeur into their lives as when you enter the actors are already in character and seemly carrying on with their every day lives.  It has comedy with a sense of sadness as the characters try to navigate through the changes within their relationships and come to terms with their identity and feelings.  I loved the comedic touch of one of the actors bringing on props and doing funny dances whilst the other actors continued as if they weren't there.

I would recommend you see it before the end of it's run.


One of the best played I have seen in a while, I would definitely recommend watching it. This play approaches the subject of a young girl coming out to her parents while her partner starts the process of going through the transition. These sensitives subjects are dealt with well, while also keeping a good amount of humour in the play. The audience sees the different emotions that both parties are going through and is taken on the journey with the couple.


To be completely honest, I had not really heard anything about Rotterdam and on a Tuesday evening in the pouring rain it REALLY took some self motivation to get there but I AM SO GLAD I FOUND THE ENERGY TO GO!

I have never been to the Arts theatre before and although there is the usual promotion above the door about the play, if you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't of noticed it - from the outside it really looks more like a bar than a theatre! The staff were very helpful from the onset when I went to receive my tickets at the box office. 

As we entered the theatre the actors were already on stage (I had to check the time, to make sure we weren't late), I immediately felt like a peeping tom, peering into the lives of these people - what a great way to introduce characterisation, without words, just fantastic acting and fabulous use of music. 

And then we were off, the europop cut off as the characters played their lives out in front of us. For around 2 hours we were led through the fragility of a relationship, both struggling to come to terms with coming out (In their own way) and what happens after that. It was real and raw and you could feel every word that the characters were saying, the intimacy of the theatre really helped that. I was laughing one minute and absolutely breathless the next. Ed Eales White was certainly a welcome light relief in some of the more intense moments and in the second half, Anna Martine took my breath away with her visual struggle - you really felt the emotion in the room and I definitely shed a tear or three!

The staging was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC, simple yet effective use of the actors transitioning to each scene, yet staying in character and reacting to each other as if still in the previous scene. 

I've already told everyone to go see it before this run ends, it is a must see. 


The Arts theatre is small and proved the perfect setting for such a thought-provoking and intimate play –the impact would have certainly been lost on a larger stage.

The performance starts the moment you sit down with the protagonists, Alice and Fiona, pottering around the stage before the opening scene. The description really doesn’t do the show justice, I was expecting a heavy and possibly dry play about the pressures of society on sexuality and gender but the play is actually raw and funny.

Alice is struggling to come out to her parents and just as she has finally plucked up the courage, her girlfriend Fiona drops a pretty big bombshell – she’s transgender and wants to be a man called Adrian.

The play touches on some pretty series stuff but as there is an underlying level of humour throughout, so it doesn’t feel too intense.

The set design is particularly clever, with this being just a four man show; the actors themselves move and change the set with very simple props transforming one scene to the next. Rather than to try and disguise the changeover, the scenes overlap and the movements are incorporated into the story.

At just over two hours the play wasn’t too long – although the second half featured some very long shouting matches – and the story didn’t drag on. Any longer and it would have been an overkill.

Not your typical story but a very real play highlighting the struggle by those who feel they have been born in the wrong body and the effect this has on their loved ones. I would highly recommend. 


A play of two halves for sure. Even when you walk in, the action has already begun with actors on stage as the auditorium fills - loud music preventing you from hearing their mimed conversations. And then, bang, we're in, with lesbian lovers pontificating over whether one of them should send an email drafted for her parents to tell them that she's gay. What transpires is that one of them thinks she might actually be a man trapped in a woman's body, with all the questions it poses being brought to the forefront. If one of them is gay and fancies girls, does she still fancy her partner? A brother is also involved giving comic relief to what would be a very heavy play indeed. The first half is mostly laughs with a few poignant moments, and the second half is hard to watch at times, with screaming arguments and tears aplenty as things turn sour. Thankfully there is the odd funny moment to cut the atmosphere in what is a very well acted play from all four parties (forgot to mention there's a fly in the ointment thanks to another gay girl who works with one of them, tempting her out for a night in Rotterdam on New Year's Eve). Touching for sure, whatever your gender or sexual preference.


One of the best plays I've ever seen. Based around the story of a lesbian couple living in Rotterdam where one realises they are transsexual. So not an easy topic! However, I wasn't expecting to laugh as much as I did, the humour is fairly consistent and actually made me laugh out loud many times without patronising or belittling the importance of the subject. It also made me cry though, with one scene in particular taking me through the heart-wrenching journey of confusion and pain of the main characters. Often plays like this can come across as a bit preachy and accuses the audience of not being understanding enough but this one takes the audience on the journey, not just with the trans character but with the girlfriend, the brother and random passers by who may not know how to act around a trans person. It validates all reactions and makes you realise it's confusing for everyone. It makes references to issues that hadn't even occurred to me before such as which toilet does a trans use? How do you explain it to children? How important it is to be seen as the gender they want to be not the one they were born as. Despite the heavy topic it really is an enjoyable watch - truly captivating, emotional and hilarious.


What a fantastic play! Finally someone decides to show both sides of a couple involved in a gender transformation. I don't think you can take one side or the other and say "I preferred Alice or I preferred Fiona/Adrian". Both points of view are understandable and must be respected (which is perfectly highlighted in the play). The actors are doing a brilliant job all along the show and I think this play is a must see. Josh (the only man in the play) is a wonderful character, fun and understanding, I personally think he brings a lot to the play! Our minds and society are finally evolving and Rotterdam is helping this evolution in the best way possible. I can't recommend it enough!!


Wow, what an emotional journey! This play completely took me by surprise and I thought it was brilliant. At first I was a tad unsure about the actors, the set and the music choices as I felt that they did not fit in with the LGBT topic and only scratched the surface of the complex feelings of becoming transgender. However, that was only the first act and the second act had me completely captivated.

Upon reflection it makes sense that the first act was more simplistic as I'm sure these LGBT topics would have been new to a lot of audiences and the first act gave them an understanding of it. I think the topic was handled with care and the story was so well written that my heart could not help but go out to each of the characters. I admire the fact that there were only four characters in total as it meant that the we got to know them all individually and each were important in various ways. Josh's character was an absolute highlight for me as he lightened the mood of the play yet proved to be the most sensitive and kind character of them all. All actors were unique in style and were really compatible in bringing together this piece of wonderful modern theater and I would urge anyone to go as soon as they can as this is a topic which needs to be made more familiar in the contemporary and was done in a very tasteful way.


What a captivating show! I laughed, I danced, I cried! The theatre is small and intimate, perfect for this show. The actors, wow all I can say is I was blown away! The story based and 2 lesbians and one going through a big change. It never once took away from the seriousness of the topic but still make me smile. It felt so real and how I think I would be feeling in that situation. This show is definitely in my top 5 of all time. Cannot recommend it enough! Well done to everyone involved you truly captured my heart


Absolutely loved this incredibly moving performance! The topic, of transgender transformation, isn't often approached and isn't quite a mainstream subject yet. However, this play approached it with sensitivity and also a great deal of relatability. Throughout, the audience were utterly captivated: laughing, crying and waiting in tense silence at the awkward situations.

So well done, I would recommend time and time again!!! Hoping this receives the recognition it deserves!  


I went to watch Rotterdam yesterday evening and what a wonderful and intense roller coaster of emotions it was! Rotterdam tells the story of a couple living in Rotterdam, Fiona and Alice, and how their lives unravel and change when Fiona confesses to Alice on New Year’s Eve that she is transgendered, has felt like a man her whole life, and would like to start living as one—Adrian. This play was incredibly humbling, helped me get a better insight into some of the challenges gay and trans people might face, and has strengthened my resolve to be an even more proactive ally to members of the LGBTQ community.

There are only four characters in the whole play but they carry Rotterdam flawlessly and will take you on a wild ride filled with laughter, nail-biting moments, and plenty of tears. The script is witty and moving, and handles the theme of identity struggles without any reservations or subtleties (and with plenty of humour!) You will be anxious and unsettled throughout, especially when Adrian and Alice fight, and you will find yourself rooting for them and their love to succeed, as if they were real people and even as if they were your friends. Do not miss this play! 


Rotterdam is a very endearing and at times funny show revolving around a British lesbian couple, Alice and Fiona, living in Holland. It starts out around New Year's Eve with Alice figuring out how to let her parents know she's gay, while Fiona is figuring out how to come out as transgender. In the first act, the script brilliantly discusses their thought processes while maintaining a light and humorous feel. The second act tackles more serious and heartbreaking decisions and questions that they face. The cast of four are outstanding. I'm so glad I got to see Rotterdam - it gave me a glimpse into some of the challenges gay and transgender people are faced with.


Absolutely loved this play, definitely deserving of the 5 stars.

The play starts off really unusually with the cast moving around the stage and starting the storyline before the lights went down. The writing and acting was totally believable and utterly gripping throughout. The play also has a great storyline which is current and acts as a great way to engage all sorts of people (alrhough, there is a bit of swearing so maybe not one for your Nan). I can definitely see why it is award winning.

The Arts Theatre is also a great venue with a lovely coffee shop/ bar at the entrance - will definitely spend time here in the future.

Couldn't recommend Rotterdam more - buy tickets now!!!


From the synopsis, this play sounds very deep and heavy and I prepared myself for such but was pleasantly surprised when the gravity of the subject matter was wonderfully uplifted with a snippets of humour. I found the complexities of the 2 central characters, Alice and Fiona, engaging and realistic. The inner turmoil Fiona portrays in the second act when she wants Alice to stay with her is heart wrenching and the added confusion Alice feels about herself, I can imagine is very true to life.

The quiet star of the show for me was Josh, always there to provide comic relief but still the warm, supportive sibling when he needs to be. His character's plot provides a good twist to an all round great production.

Loved this play. Toes the line between comedy and seriousness really well - laugh out loud funny at some points and definitely saw some tears from the audience at others. Deals with some important issues in a very honest way. Great acting from the four cast members throughout. Enjoyable from start to finish, highly recommended.