This is an interesting and powerful comedy-drama from Jon Brittain (writer) and Donnacadh O’Briain (director) at York Theatre Royal, about what happens when a person decides to transition from one physical gender to another. More specifically, it’s also about the effects of that transformation on their loved ones, including their romantic partner. Audiences should come prepared for an intense and eye-opening production, which lifts the lid on questions to do with transsexuality which people may have wondered about but were too hesitant to ask. That’s not to say that the production is a drudge or a lecture, however – far from it. Indeed, the play manages to be both brutally candid and often hilariously funny, pivoting from heart-wrenching moments of emotional agony to laugh-out-loud moments of situation comedy.

Alice (Beth Cullinane) is a British woman living in Rotterdam with Fiona (Lucy Jane Parkinson), her romantic partner. Alice is on the verge of telling her parents that she is gay and living with a woman, when Fiona announces a bombshell: she feels more like a man than a woman and wants to transition in order to bring her biology more into line with her personal identity. The rest of the play focuses on Alice trying to come to terms with what this means for their relationship and for her own sexuality, as well as Fiona’s (later Adrian’s) own frustrations with the world and conflicting feelings of love and self-knowledge. Things are further complicated by Lelani (Ellie Morris), an attractive colleague of Alice’s who makes it clear that she is attracted to her; and by friend Josh (Elijah W. Harris) who moves in to support the couple during this period.

The performances are uniformly excellent, and all the actors inhabit their characters perfectly, even when those characters are not sure of who they really are. Bethan Cullinane gives a wonderful turn as Alice, the increasingly neurotic and unmoored young woman who is faced with an impossible dilemma. Similarly, Ellie Morris and Elijah Harris serve to uplift and anchor the play, respectively, with their sympathetic and often hilarious deadpan performances. Lucy Jane Parkinson is incredible as Fiona/Adrian, managing to move seamlessly from wittily acerbic to self-deluded to genuinely tragic all in one scene, and to elicit feelings of huge sympathy from the audience.

The use of contemporary music, disco lights, and props (including balloons!) all work effectively to transform a simple space into a collage of locations around Rotterdam. Moreover, the costume and wardrobe do well to indicate the time-lapse that has occurred between the first and second act. The only gripe (and it is a minor one) about the production is that in the early scenes it felt as if the actors needed more time to warm up and to deliver their dialogue more naturalistically, which they soon did once they interacted more onstage.

Is the play a comedy or a tragedy? Undeniably it’s a bit of both, as its central characters are placed on a collision course with the reality of their contradictory sexual orientations. It’s an intelligent, self-aware, and emotionally compelling piece of storytelling that, whatever one thinks or feels about transgender persons, showcases the humanity at the heart of all such questions of personal struggle, family loyalty and love.

Reviewer: Amanda Hodgson

Reviewed: 11th April 2019

North West End Rating: ★★★★