Interview: Donnacadh O’Briain

This week Rotterdam opens at Trafalgar Studios following it’s huge success at Theatre 503 last year. Following the lives of lesbian couple Alica and Fiona, it explores issues surrounding gender and sexuality.  Both stories of lesbian relationships and transgender characters can be hard to come by on the UK’s stages, so it’s not only brilliant when they do, but is especially good news when they become huge successes. LGBTQ Arts’ Amie Taylor ran a Q and A with the Director, Donnacadh O’Briain to find out a little more about Rotterdam.

AT: How did you come to be the director on Rotterdam?

DO: I was searching for my next show and I just went on a search for new plays, approached theatres, and writers themselves, and read until something really hit me. And that was Rotterdam. There were lots of scripts I was considering and mulling over, but once I read Jon’s play, that was that. Luckily enough Jon was as up for me doing it as I was up for doing it.

AT: What kind of research did you and the company do in the rehearsal process?

DO: We did a lot of reading and watching and discussing. It began for me as soon as I knew I was going to make the show, listening to podcasts ‘Transponder’ was particularly great, as was ‘Bitch Media’ which though not trans specific was going through a period where it was very often on the agenda. I also met several trans people along the way, in part through the casting process – we met as many trans actors as we could – and the observations and insights in those encounters were invaluable. We all took time privately and in rehearsals reading and watching first-hand accounts of people transition stories and experiences. Once we got into rehearsals I worked closely with my associate director Roxy Cook, who led on research, but all of us brought things to the table – Anna Martine who plays trans-man Adrian was like a research ninja too, at a certain point I had to tell her to stop watching videos and learn her lines!

AT: What were the greatest challenges in staging this piece?

DO: The biggest challenge was helping Anna realise the transition. In the first half Adrian is still living as Fiona and presenting as a Lesbian/Gender Queer Woman, and in the second half he is living as a man and is four months into transition, and taking testosterone etc. So getting Anna to a place where she could do that six months in the fifteen minutes between the first and second acts, and it be real and sensitive and sophisticated, was our challenge. Luckily, Anna is also an acting Ninja with a huge passion for the subject and the character, so we got there.

AT: What has the audience response been like so far?

DO: It’s been a joy. I’ve never worked on a show that’s had quite such an impact on the audience. Jon is very clever and he has written essentially a comedy. One about how people are mostly idiots and tend to screw things up and get things wrong, and are mostly scared and get the same things wrong over and over until everything crashes down and they have to stop and look at it. And in doing so, he has managed to not be patronising or reductive or give us a lecture… he’s actually managed to make us laugh and in so doing take this bunch of people (one of who happens to be trans) into our hearts. And at the same time as doing all that, he has actually written about transition and what that is and what it is like… It’s very skilled. And I think that is why the reaction is what it was… It was a total sell out at Theatre503, and we could have sold it many times over – so many people wanted to see it again. So here we are, delighted to have it back on the stage.

AT: What audience are you reaching out to?

DO: We’re reaching out to everyone. It is hugely satisfying to be people’s introduction to some of the issues and ideas of the play – specifically around understanding transgender – so yes we are reaching out to a general audience who may only have a passing idea of what transgender is. But it was also really wonderful to feel that on many many nights of the run the theatre was almost commandeered by the LGBTQ community, and there was this wonderful feeling in the room of ‘this is ours, this is for us’. And, it’s a beautiful thing when art can do that.

AT: What do you hope they will take away from watching?

DO: A pain in the side from laughing; a pain in the throat from welling up; a happy heart and a better understanding of the species. That’d be good.

AT: Describe Rotterdam in 6 words…

DO: Smart. Funny. Powerful. Transitions. Truths. Sequins.

Running at Trafalgar Studios, London, from the 26th July – 27th August 2016.

Interview © @AmieAmieTay 2016

Donnacadh O'Briain

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