Groundbreaking transgender comedy in the Midlands
Posted on 29 Mar 2019


Jon Brittain’s Olivier Award-winning comedy drama addresses issues of gender. sexuality and being a long way from home. Having performed to sell-out audiences both in London and New York, the play this month makes its way to the Midlands as part of its first UK tour. Here Lucy Jane Parkinson - pictured below - gives an insight into what audiences can expect.

Why is the story of Rotterdam so important in 2019?
In 2019 there are a lot of conversations happening around gender identity and the sort of journeys people are going on. There are a lot of different kinds of story out there, but this one is really interesting because even though I play Adrian, and it’s about Adrian transitioning, it also allows you to have a look at how the partner is dealing with this character transitioning. That’s not something that’s really seen. You usually just see the story of someone who is trans going on this journey. But here, we’ve got how it affects the partner and family, the dynamics between them and the strain it puts on them.

How would you describe Rotterdam to someone who knows nothing about the play?
It’s a comedy-drama following the lives of Adrian, their journey into the person they’ve always seen themselves as, and how that affects everyone else around them.

Tell us about your character of  Fiona/Adrian...
Adrian was assigned female at birth and given the name Fiona. Quiet, hot-headed, sarcastic, they’ve been in a relationship for seven years with Alice, who was their brother’s ex-girlfriend. Such a joyful character!

What are you personally hoping to bring to the role?
As a non-binary person myself, I feel connected to the journey. First coming out thinking they’re gay, then coming to terms with not only sexuality but also gender identity. I think I’m bringing a lot of experience points to the role.

What have you personally learned from your involvement so far?
We’ve only been in rehearsals for a week so far, so we’re still learning. There’s a lot of stuff being thrown into the ring. We started without scripts in our hands, so this has been a new way to learn. We work by making the characters gel together. It’s about them bonding on stage first, which is brand new for me but is really effective.

When you got the role of Adrian, was there anything you wanted to bring to the part from your own personal experience?
Jon Brittain, the writer, has a great vision. He’s created a really beautiful story. The script is as it is because it’s a great script. I also think the fact they’ve asked someone who isn’t cisgender to play the role is such a bold move. And for someone who’s in a cisgender role who’s actually trans, we’ve got a really good mix. This is the right way to move forward, and I’m delighted to be in that room and grateful to be cast in the first place. It’s something that’s quite new in the arts. They’re actively looking for people who are trans and non-binary to go and audition.

Rotterdam has received great critical praise. Why do you think that is?
I think with a lot of stuff that’s around at the moment to do with identity, it’s so subjective because everybody's journey is different, especially if one is transgender. Every journey is unique and completely different. I think once you try and put a voice and a story to that, sometimes people say, “That’s not my voice and that’s not my journey”. That’s not what we’re trying to do with Rotterdam. We’re not trying to say this is what every journey is like; we’re trying to say these stories are happening and this is how they’re going down. We just want to put a spotlight on this kind of narrative in theatre. It’s not about speaking for other people, it’s about standing with them and saying these stories should be told.

The Curve theatre recently described you as ‘history’s greatest gender warrior’...
I’ve just heard about that now! Haha! Well, that’s pretty phenomenal. I might have to drop a text message and see who I owe a tenner to! That’s absolutely fantastic. I’m only 30, though, so there’s a lot of room for me to mess up still!

Is there anything you’d like to educate our readers about with regard to your experience as trans non-binary?
There’s nothing I’d particularly like to educate people about or say they needed to learn, but I would encourage people who have any questions to ask them rather than lean away from them. It’s important to have a conversation. If you’re not sure about something, don’t step back from it, jump in and ask. Don’t be afraid to get pronouns wrong; it’s the way it is. Trans and non-binary people have always been around, but now we’re just making room for ourselves again. Have dialogue.

You also do work as a drag king. Drag kings are an under-represented element of the drag community. Have you struggled with this?
I personally haven’t really struggled, but it does affect you because venues are so used to just putting on drag queens. There’s a lot of work that’s still very new, and there are a lot of drag kings who’re new to their practice. There’s a lot of misogyny too, even in the queer community. I think that’s why drag kings might not have a massive light shone on them. They’ve been going on forever, but people just don’t tell their story. With the Stonewall riots, everyone talks about Marsha P, but nobody talks about Stormé DeLarverie, who’s said to have thrown the first punch. Nobody knows who they are. I think it’s all about misogyny, to be honest.

Have you borrowed anything from your drag king character for the role of Adrian?
I think it would be in my best interests not to, because Louis Cyfer, my character, is quite a naughty little bugger!

Rotterdam shows at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from Monday 22 to Wednesday 24 April and also at the Birmingham REP from Monday 20 to Wednesday 22 May.



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