In just under two weeks, 503Five alumni Jon Brittain returns with a new full-length play Rotterdam. Alongside Hartshorn-Hook Productions, we are incredibly excited to be showing the premiere production of this fantastic piece of new writing, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain. Here’s what happened when Assistant Director Roxy Cook asked Jon a few questions about his writing and the play…
How did you become a playwright?
Kind of by accident. When I was a kid my Granddad would write me stories and my brother and I would make up our own. I always wrote jokes, stories and sketches but was also interested in acting, directing and comedy. I thought I was going to try and be a stand up comedian but it didn’t work out that way. At the end of university each drama student had to write and perform in a 15 minute show and so I wrote my first play The Wake. It went very well and in an extended form was selected for National Student Drama Festival. I thought everyone there would praise my incredible performance but instead they said they quite liked the script. There was no epiphany moment when I realised that writing was what I needed to do with my life, but it slowly dawned on me that that was the case. And here I am.
What is Rotterdam about?
Rotterdam is a love story about a woman named Alice who has always identified as gay and her partner Fiona who reveals that he has always identified as male and wants to start living as a man named Adrian. It’s about how their relationship changes as they try to work out who they are themselves and how they reconcile their gender and sexual identities with their feelings for each other. (and it’s got jokes in).
What prompted you to write Rotterdam?
It was just one of those ideas that wouldn’t leave me. A friend of mine came out as trans many years ago and I’ve known other people who have been through experiences that have made them question their sexual identities. Fusing aspects of those two situations together just seemed like a really interesting way to explore questions about gender, sexuality and identity in an entertaining and dramatic way.
How did you research the play?
I started with first person accounts by trans people and their partners about their experiences of the transitioning process. For me, it was important to get to grips with the emotional truth of the situation rather than starting with more academic research. In particular there were some great video blogs on youtube made by trans people and a book called Queerly Beloved which is a funny, frank and warm account of a trans man and his lesbian partner’s experience of his transition. Once I’d done that and started thinking more about the story I then started to read around the issue and think about the play within a wider context. Having done that I approached trans friends to drafts, as well as organisations such as Gendered Intelligence, All About Trans and Trans Media Watch and through them I met several fantastic people whose feedback really helped me flesh out the story.
What’s the process been like getting the script to where it is today?
Long. I started a draft in 2011 but abandoned it, then started another in 2012 which I actually finished but I wasn’t happy with it so I put it in a drawer for two years. Eventually I came back to it and found the time away had given me the answers to a lot of my problems. A few drafts later, I did a reading at New Diorama Theatre and that was when I started to feel like it might be not terrible. A few months later Steve at Theatre503 read the latest draft and sent it to both Donnacadh O’Briain and Roy Williams. Roy selected it for his Playwrights Presents nigh t at Theatre503 and Donnacadh decided he wanted to direct a production of it.
Why did you choose to set the play in Rotterdam?
I knew I wanted the characters to be isolated. To take them away from a support base or community that they could look to for help. I don’t remembeer when I decided to set the play in Rotterdam but I do know that as soon as I had the idea I didn’t consider anything else. I lived in the Netherlands when I was growing up so I was very familiar with the culture, the people and what it’s like to be an ex-pat abroad. Once I’d made the decision it really helped to give the play a richness that it didn’t have before. And it gave me lots of ideas for jokes.
I mean, that question does presuppose that a new writer has much power about where a play gets put on (we don’t) however if I had been able to choose, I would have picked 503 anyway. They gave me the seed commission to write the play in 2012 and have been such stalwart supporters of me for the last five years that I am really proud that the play is premiering there.
How are rehearsals going?
Fantastically. Great cast, great team, great process. It makes my life very easy
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
I hope that people will open themselves up to things they hadn’t considered before. I hope they engage with the questions about identity, gender and sexuality. I hope that they empathise with the characters and their predicaments and enjoy the story and nominate us all for awards. Mostly though, I hope that they laugh at the jokes.
Rotterdam plays at Theatre503 27 October – 21 November, 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm). Tickets are £15/£12 (Pay What You Can Sundays) and available online and by calling the Box Office.