If you follow theatre closely, you may already know that Rotterdam claimed an Olivier Award at the ceremony this year; having received brilliant reviews across the board and bringing a trans narrative to mainstream stages. Having started out in 2015 at theatre 503, it’s come a long way since then, with London transfers and international performances too. Soon it returns to London to the Arts Theatre. This week I chatted to Anna Martine Freeman who plays the central character Adrian in the play to find a bit more out about the creation of this brilliant piece.
About the play: “Alice wants to come out as a lesbian. Her girlfriend Fiona wants to start living as a man named Adrian. Now, as he begins his transition, Alice faces a question she never thought she’d ask… does this mean she’s straight?”
(Interview by @AmieAmieTay for @LGBTQArts)
AT: Hi Anna, thanks so much for chatting to us at LGBTQ Arts today. You’ve been working on Rotterdam for a couple of years now –
AMF: Yes, Rotterdam started at theatre 503 at the end of 2015, it had really humble beginnings and now it’s properly flying.
AT: Because then it went on to Trafalgar Studios, where we saw it last Summer and loved it. I’d like us to start today by going all the way back to the beginning to find out how you approached this piece as a company and as an individual? It’s obviously a very sensitive subject and one you want to get right…
AMF: It’s a play that’s aligned with a lot of issues that are close to my heart and very important to me, so I’d like to firstly say that I’m super proud to be in a play that stands so strongly in solidarity with the LGBT community; it’s a play where three characters are queer, with a central trans narrative and the other character is a straight ally. As a company, I know the producers and the creative team have been working very, very closely with the charity Gendered Intelligence and have had two personal contacts there; so they’ve been closely connected to the trans and LGBT community. I felt confident coming in to it because of the ground they’d laid before I’d even entered the project.
AT: Did you meet any challenges in playing the role of Fiona / Adrian?
AMF: Plenty! It’s been amazing and super challenging and liberating. It’s just a wonderful character and one of the most epic journeys I’ve explored as an actor, not just in terms of gender and sexuality, but also one of the most amazing things has been that it’s connected to people across the board. I think people can relate to the fact that wanting to be yourself and wanting to share that with someone you love, which is the central narrative, is so relatable on a human level. This character has opened my eyes to a lot of things, including how gendered we are as a society, how divided we are by gender and how behaviours are prescribed to us depending on our assigned gender. I’ve been so aware of my privilege as a cis woman, and we’ve opened up a wonderful dialogue now, for example at rehearsals or meetings relating to the play we go around and say our name and our preferred pronoun. Because we should never assume anyone’s gender or sexuality but because our society caters to heterosexuality, a lot of heterosexual people don’t have the experience of having to self identify.
AT: Often plays that have an LGBT narrative are likely to attract a majority LGBT audience, but it feels as though Rotterdam has broken beyond that and entered the mainstream, which is really unusual. Do you know what kind of audiences it is bringing in?
AMF: I know what you mean, because often people will say things like ‘it’s great for a gay play’ or ‘it’s great for a queer play’, but it’s a strange category. I want to see more LGBT characters and narratives in the mainstream, and it’s totally happening. And sure we need to celebrate the fact that this story has come so far – it won a flipping Olivier Award, I mean bloody hell! The fact it’s had such recognition and has connected with people not just within the LGBT community, and I don’t know why other plays aren’t, perhaps due to not getting enough funding or support – which of course is a problem for all theatre. But I think it’s a shame that it’s [LGBT+ theatre] put in to boxes, and that it’s its own category. I want people to move beyond the stereotypes and tropes that we often see in the mainstream LGBT stories; where LGBT characters aren’t shown as being stuck in a rut perpetually playing out their identities, they just… are. They exist and they go about their day. I think with Rotterdam it attracts a broader audience because the humour plays a large part in breaking down that barrier too.
AT: Finally, you’ve had an incredible response from the media, but I was wondering if you’ve received any more personal responses from audience members of how it connected –
AMF: That’s the best bit, that’s the most fulfilling part of my job, is connecting to people. And I have had people reach out, in ways that they’ve been deeply connected to this particular narrative; one person where it was a little too close to the bone. So many, I’ve had someone contact me to discuss their sibling who has just come out as trans. It’s certainly touched a lot of people, and I couldn’t really ask for anything more than that.
AT: Thank you so much for speaking with us today Anna.
Rotterdam runs at the Arts Theatre (London) From the 21st June to the 25th July. Book now.
Read our review of Rotterdam here.