Friday, 20 May 2016

Rotterdamned Dramaturgy: Donnacadh O’Brian @ Trafalgar Studios

Rotterdam, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain, is a bittersweet comedy about gender, sexuality and being a long way from home by acclaimed writer Jon Brittain, co-creator of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, and writer of What Would Spock Do? and The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo.

Alice wants to come out as a lesbian. Her girlfriend Fiona wants to start living as a man. 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, Fiona reveals that he has always identified as a man and now wants to start living as one named Adrian. Now, as Adrian begins his transition, Alice must face a question she never thought she'd ask... does this mean she's straight?

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I was very moved by the story from the first time I read it, and in particular the character of Adrian who goes through the most profound series of life events through the play. I have been inspired by him and people like him, and the whole team have a real passion for bringing that story to an audience. I've rarely done a project with so much unity of purpose and emotional commitment.

How did you become interested in making performance in the first place - does it hold any particular qualities that other media don't have?
I trained as an actor, and so I developed a love of making work for audiences when I was in my late teens and older. As a theatre maker I am always thinking about the audience, and how they interact with the performance. I love to play with the liveness of the event, and I'm often drawn to meta-theatricality, particularly the playful type. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
It was typical of how I work with actors, and I have my methods which I've developed of over the years for how I like to build a sense of liveness and a strong ensemble. 

But the production itself is its own thing - whilst there are characteristics of my work, I really do start with each script and try to understand it's unique needs. With Rotterdam, the style of the comedy was very important and informs a lot of the feel... It has a real pop drive which supports the comedy and provides a strong counterpoint for the tragedy.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I want them to have laughed a lot, and ideally had a little cry too - I always do both when I see it, and that was pretty common during the run at Theatre503. So having had an emotional experience and having laughed... But of course alongside that we want people to come out with having formed a real empathetic connection to the characters, and with the beginnings of an understanding of trans issues, and that is something I think the play does very well and very subtly.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Really it's always been about delivering Jon's script to the best of our collective abilities. It's such an accomplished piece of writing, that it was a gift to direct really. It does most of the work in terms of shaping the audience experience. I would lay claim to one major embellishment in the form of a sequence around the climax of the play that happens under Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own' but you'll have to just see it.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Not especially. I do enjoy the connections people make between different productions, but it's not something that I do much. I try to respond to each play on its own terms and create an aesthetic for it which is bespoke. Ask me again in a few years.

Rotterdam by Jon Brittain
Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY Tuesday 26th July - Saturday 27th August 2016

Following a highly successful run last autumn at Theatre503, Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam now transfers to Trafalgar Studios. Anna Martine (The Nether), Alice McCarthy (Boris: World King), Ed Eales-White (Strap In – It’s Clever Peter) and Jessica Clark (The Events) reprise their roles in this poignant and highly comic production.

Director Donnacadh O’Briain comments,

There's something really special about this play, and about the cast who brought it to life. Audiences were incredibly taken with it, I've rarely seen a reception like we had at Theatre503. We were entirely sold out a day or two after press night so it's fantastic to be able to bring it back to a wider audience. I think it's a must see and I'm not biased at all.
Jon Brittain was inspired to write Rotterdam after a couple of his friends transitioned in the late 2000s. He became aware of the absence of transgender stories in pop culture and wanted to address this on the stage. 

Through writing this show, he researched and consulted widely including talking to numerous trans people and their partners, conducting readings for members of the trans communities and discussing the show with various parties who were all supportive, including Trans Media Watch who then endorsed Rotterdam.
Notes Ages 14+
Jon Brittain is a playwright, comedy writer and director. His plays include A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad (New Diorama), What Would Spock Do (Gilded Balloon), and The Sexual Awakening of Peter Mayo (Pleasance). He also directed and co-wrote the smash hit Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho (Theatre503, Assembly, Leicester Square Theatre) for which he was nominated for 'Most Promising Playwright' at the 2014 Off West End Awards. 

He has worked extensively with Old Vic New Voices, he was part of the Theatre503 Five and he was a member of the Royal Court Studio Group. In comedy, he directed both of John Kearns' Fosters Award- winning shows Sight Gags for Perverts and Shtick as well as Tom Allen's shows Both Worlds and Indeed, and is a member of the Weirdos Comedy Club. 

He has written for Radio 4's The Now Show, Cartoon Network’s BAFTA and Emmy award winning The Amazing World of Gumball and he created the online sketch show HodgePodge for Hoot Comedy. He is currently developing an original series for BBC3, an hour long drama series for the BBC Writers Scheme, the musical How to Stop Being Fat and Start Being Happy with composer Harry Blake, and the comedy show Margaret Thatcher Queen of Game Shows.

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