It’s New Year in Rotterdam, and Alice has finally plucked up the courage to email her parents and tell them she’s gay. But before she can hit send, her girlfriend Fiona reveals that he has always identified as male and now wants to start living as a man named Adrian.
Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is a bittersweet comedy about gender, sexuality and being a long way from home.
After successful runs in both London and New York, Donnacadh O’Briain’s Olivier award-winning production is on its first UK tour, arriving at Manchester Opera House on June 13.
Quays Life meets the cast: Lucy Jane Parkinson, Ellie Morris, Elijah W Harris and Bethan Cullinane, to find out more…
Tell us about Rotterdam
Lucy Jane Parkinson: Rotterdam is a play about what impact gender, identity and relationships have on each other. We follow four characters who all work and live in Rotterdam. They have found themselves central to a currently unfolding drama surrounding Alice and her partner of seven years Fiona, who creates quite an explosion when they tell Alice they want to be called Adrian now.
Ellie Morris: It’s about acceptance and understanding the things that make us who we are. It follows Adrian’s journey as he transitions from female to male and how that affects his relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Alice.
Elijah W Harris: It is a lot to do with identity and how one’s identity can grow and shift, and the impact that has on those around us.
Bethan Cullinane: It is a sharp and funny exploration of identity, love and relationships.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
Ellie Morris: I hope people will feel they have gone on a journey with the characters and perhaps learn about something they may not have known about before – for me that’s always a great reason to go to the theatre.
Elijah W Harris: Well I hope they enjoy it! Jon Brittain’s writing is very nuanced but has an everyday feel to it, which makes it so easy to see yourself in the characters and their words, whatever the subject matter. It has definitely made me think about my relationships and how I communicate so I hope it does that for the audience also. And of course, I hope that the content plus seeing trans and non-binary people on stage will encourage people to embrace the trans people around them. And allow the LGBTIA+ audience members to feel seen, because it doesn’t happen often enough!
Bethan Cullinane: I hope they will laugh! It is a very funny play, and if we can get them to laugh then we can get them to cry. You’ve got to get them when they’re not expecting it! I hope that they leave having felt for every single character. It’s still rare to see stories about LGBTQIA+ people on stage, so I also hope that this production will allow a lot of people around the UK to feel seen and embraced.
Rotterdam has had a very successful life in London. How do you think the show will be perceived by audiences around the country?
Lucy Jane Parkinson: Well, obviously I hope they like it. If they don’t it’s going to be a pretty rough two months. I hope those that have seen it before and are coming again are happy with the new cast dynamic. But mostly I just hope that audiences perceive it as great entertainment.
Ellie Morris : This is an important story to take outside of London. I think people will like it, at least I hope they will! There’s some element of this story which I think everyone will be able to relate to in some way.
Elijah W Harris: I am so excited to be touring this show; it often feels like everything happens in London and it is easy for creatives to become London-centric. I am from Leicester and seeing this show growing up would have changed my life, and I am not just saying that. Of course, the internet connects anyone at any time but seeing someone like you, telling a story like yours, in the flesh, in your space? Well there is truly nothing like it.
Bethan Cullinane: I think there are people all over the country that this story will resonate with, and I think there are many people who will learn something from it too. Not everywhere has easy access to theatre like this, so that is exciting, but I’m confident that every audience member will take something from the production and hopefully be moved or at least entertained!
Did you always want to act?
Lucy Jane Parkinson: You mean there is an alternative – a job where I don’t need to feel like I’m chasing my own tail sometimes? I don’t believe you. Nah, it’s a great life! We all act every day of our lives whether we want to or not, don’t we? I’m smart, I clocked at the young age that I should try and get paid for it, as regular as possible anyway.
Ellie Morris: Not very exciting but yes, I think I have!
Elijah W Harris: Yes, though I was also really into sports growing up and played pretty much anything I could. I remember playing one of Fat Sam’s gang in Bugsy Malone at High School and just feeling like that made a lot of sense. When I moved to London, I got a degree because I thought that was the most sensible option – I would be able to get a ‘proper job’. I didn’t know anything about drama schools and I certainly didn’t think that I was welcome in a place like that. They can’t teach that confidence or entitlement in state schools that private education seems to create. You are automatically on the back foot, feeling like an intruder somehow.
Bethan Cullinane: My mum was told in a parent teacher meeting that I was ‘an extremely shy child’, so you can imagine her delight when I became an actor. She actually tracked-down the teacher, just to let him know. I was forcibly placed on the dining table at Christmas to sing a few songs, and I was often in fancy dress (mainly Captain Scarlett) but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I really knew I wanted to act. After jumping a few hurdles that my dad put in place to make sure I was ‘properly committed’, I auditioned for drama school and I have never looked back.
Any advice to budding actors?
Lucy Jane Parkinson: Take care of your mental health you young un’s (and oldies). It’s frightening being a human being sometimes – seek out your people and support them and in turn they will support you. Also, invest and save – but I suppose that is applicable to everything!
Ellie Morris: Embrace the things that are unique to you.
Elijah W Harris: Be kind to yourself, the industry can be hard and sometimes not very nice, so make up for that by giving yourself time and be patient. Learn to lift yourself up, make your own contacts and create opportunities for yourself. If you or your experiences are not represented on stage or TV then create something, be the change, be the person that you needed to see growing up.
Bethan Cullinane: Yes, I agree – be kind to yourself. It’s not an easy industry to be part of. Pursue work that you are passionate about and that you think matters, then you can’t go wrong. Make your own work – write, write, write, even if you think you’re terrible! Work with friends and support each other, open doors for others and they will open doors for you. It can take a while, but it will come back around.
What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?
Ellie Morris: This play really does have everything you could possibly want from a night at the theatre. It’s a brilliantly written story. It’s funny and heart-breaking. The soundtrack is awesome and there are fireworks!
Elijah W Harris: This show has so, so, so much heart and is a lot of fun. It won’t be like anything else you’ve seen or will see for a while so don’t miss it!
Bethan Cullinane: This is some of the best writing I’ve ever come across. It’s funny, sharp, honest and gut wrenching. And if you hate it, I’ll buy you a pint.
Lucy Jane Parkinson: I’m a northerner with a lot of connections. I will find you and demand an explanation. A huge team of us have worked very hard to bring this to as many people as possible –what’s your excuse not to?
Read our review of Rotterdam at Manchester Opera House.