Rotterdam is something quite special. A thoroughly well-crafted piece of comic writing, with naturalistic and credible characters in situations which engage you, smartly staged and directed, and with a faultless cast. It’s hilarious, thought-provoking, sensitive. That it happens also to be the best ‘gay play’ in London since My Night With Reg seems almost irrelevant.

However you arrange the words ‘Lesbian transexual comedy, or ‘Transexual lesbian comedy’, they are vertiginously genre-defying and here breezily freed from the distant stereotype taint of Sister George. Author Jon Brittain must be blessing the Germaine Greer controversy for making this piece which has taken five years from page to stage so damn zeitgeisty topical.

It has also taken expat Alice seven years in ports administration to make few friends and no decisions, and when she finally drafts the coming-out email to her parents, her hand is stayed from the ‘send’ button by the revelation that her loving, charming girlfriend feels incomplete without gender reassignment.

Brittain’s freedom to handle the resultant situations with humour, rage, pathos, tenderness and violence is what gives his script such power. Whether meticulously researched or brilliantly imagined, his sustained insight into the two women’s complex feelings and his depiction of their love is remarkable.

Donnacadh O’Briain’s pacy, stylish direction allows the whole cast to deliver tremendous performances: Anna Martine travels the bigger dramatic arc across two gender-differentiated acts with elegant conviction, and Alice McCarthy’s beautifully-observed hesitancies and sudden emotions tug you relentlessly on her journey of self-discovery.

Once his role in the drama is fully explained, you warm also to Edward Eales-White as the blokeish man who actually understands each of the women in different ways. Although her quirky character is more colourfully drawn than the others, and she must represent all the risks and excitements Alice has denied herself, Jessica Clark brings great energy and infectious enjoyment to the role of Lelani.

I tried to tie the themes of the play to the lyrics of 90’s Hull popsters The Beautiful South‘s ‘Rotterdam (or anywhere)’ played at the end of the show – “and the women tug their hair / like they’re trying to prove it won’t fall out”.

There’s some anguished hair-tugging in the second act but it’s a further tribute to the writing that whilst you might feel you can see where the characters are going, you still want to follow every step of their way.

Rotterdam already anticipates a life beyond Theatre 503 and deserves a bigger stage.  It would make a brilliant piece of television, but the opportunity to see it here, first, for £15 really shouldn’t be missed.

 

As is our wont, @paulinlondon and I tailgated someone in to the lobby of a nearby block of flats to record this just-out-of-the-show AudioBoom