THEATRE REVIEW: Rotterdam @Theatre Royal

Following a critically-acclaimed West End run, Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is on a UK tour and this week is in Brighton.

IT is a bittersweet comedy about gender, sexuality, being a long way from home and needing to find our way back to who we really are.

Brittain’s script is simply beguiling, capturing the tensions and realities of long term relationships, the surging excitement of new crushes and the warm embrace of family ties. Brittain also does sharp retorts and furious arguments with style and it’s a pleasure to watch characters arguing on stage without wanting them to stop shouting.

The staccato pace of the plot serves us high tensions, silent aching love, brimming anger and almost unbearable frustrations from all angles, sometimes all at once, it’s a thrill, but never voyeuristic, or preachy, and that’s a rare skill on the British stage.

The first half is slightly too long but when the second half kicks off things really pick up, the narrative starts to move at a furious pace, each story intersecting and foreclosing on the other in a series of interrelationships and shared histories which are concerned with being uncomfortably static, the nature of a persons fear and the urgent need to change and move on with life.

The acting is superb, all the actors are excellent and I was fully engaged with all of them, each convincing with their characters emotional heft. It’s done with verve and tenderness and is compelling in its integrity.

It’s a lovely piece of serious theatre dressed up as something lighter, but it’s not, it’s a profound and touching look at one person’s experience of the early months of transition with various levels of support and commitment from the people around them.

Although informative, certainly from this Cis reviewers perspective, it’s also deeply human and authentic and although the gender transition narrative seems to drive the play, as it comes to a close we see if for what it is, a play about unconditional love, acceptance and the need for change to keep us true to ourselves.

The play offers up insights into transition and some of the scenes are emotionally disturbing and savage in their honesty. The question of ‘is all this change worth it, or can i go back to how it was’ is looked at from many viewpoints, but none as dark or wretched as the main protagonists plunge into drink fuelled despair. It’s a scene of startling simple expression. I was moved. The direction is tight, the music fun electro pop which masks the scene changes which are far far too long.

As we walked into the night, my companion commented that many trans people think that change will be slow and controlled, but that it is neither, it’s complete and utter.

They pointed out some nice touches, which I’d not clocked, the subtle use of ‘gendered colours’ in balloons and party wear, and other neat stagecraft tricks which quietly support the story. The play left us feeling in a good space, having watched some good acting, laughed at some very funny, and spiteful lines and never quite having any kind of resolution at the end. But this ending – which is really a beginning – is as honest, simple and unexpected as the rest of the play.

Catch it while you can, it’s not often we get to see our own narratives on stage, and when they do appear, especially when they are so well written and performed, we should make every effort to support the teams of people who bring them to our performance spaces.


Plays until Wednesday, April 11

At the Theatre Royal Brighton

For more info or to buy tickets see their website here

An offer he couldn’t refuse!

Roger Wheeler visits Sicily, the birthplace of the mafia, taking in Giarre, Syracuse, Palermo, Taormina and a trip up Mount Etna.

DON Vito Corleone’s famous quote from the Godfather followed us around Sicily. Mario Puzo the author of the book may well have been an American but he knew a lot about Sicily, its mafia the Cosa Nostra and La Camorra. You will see the technically fictitious name Corleone everywhere.

Principe di Corleone is the local wine company, nice wine but beware the serious men in suits in 30 degree heat, walking in to restaurants, sitting, smoking, being served something without question, nodding at some folk who almost bow at their feet, then leave again.

Roger and Mike on Mount Etna
Roger and Mike on Mount Etna

Sicily is stunning, dominated by the brooding presence of Mount Etna, technically a long dormant volcano until December 2018 that is.  It is the largest Mediterranean island with a population of over 5 million and the same number of visitors each year.

There is an enormous variety of ancient ruins; the Greeks left lots as did the Norman French but strangely the Romans didn’t seem to be too bothered. Coming from the UK we weren’t too concerned about very old ruins but it seemed to be all the American tourists wanted to see.

Flying into Catania we drove the short distance to Giarre to find our hotel. Giarre is the original small Sicilian town, not particularly attractive, a main road with some shops and of course a very large church. Although it is almost on the coast, its seaside neighbour Riposto is equally uninspiring, just a large yacht harbour, some nice restaurants and a beach. Our hotel, in Giarre, originally named Hotel Etna, was very nice indeed and we would recommend a few nights there but not the 14 days that BA Holidays thought we should have.

Mount Etna
Mount Etna

Staying in Sicily you have to take a trip to Mount Etna as it is an unforgettable experience.  Being taken in a very rugged 4×4 across lava fields and off-road through ancient forests was eventually worth it, the scenery was breathtaking. Walking across this desolate landscape we felt the awe-inspiring power of the volcano beneath our feet, very memorable.

You need a car, a few days in Giarre was enough so we set off to visit Palermo the capital city. The drive across the island was great, the mountains and vast rolling plains were a surprise and beautiful.  Palermo is a fantastic Mediterranean city, shops, restaurants, great hotels, museums and churches definitely worth a couple of days of anyone’s time.

We chose what was reputed to be the best hotel on the island – Grand Hotel Villa Igiea – it’s part of the Accor group. We got a very great deal on a very nice room although it can cost up to 1,000 euros per night if you want to spend that sort of money.


Along with everything else, Sicily boasts some ‘must see’ places –  one of these is Taormina, a beautiful little town high on the cliffs above the Ionian sea. It’s been a tourist destination for over two hundred years, with its famous Greco-Roman amphitheatre which is still in use; It is very attractive, lots of little lanes, shops and cafes with great views over the bay.

Ancient Theatre of Taormina
Ancient Theatre of Taormina

Being tourists we shouldn’t complain about other tourists but we still do. Taormina was uncomfortably packed and it wasn’t even high season. It draws thousands of tourists all year, we went, stayed half an hour had a coffee, bought the tee-shirt and left.

Escaping from Taormina we went to see one of the most spectacular sights on the island. The Alcantara Gorge, in the Gole Alcantara Botanical Park, this is one of the ‘must see’ places, very popular with families and therefore children but it should be seen. Beware of the gentlemen offering to ‘help’ you park, for money, its free.

The Alcantara Gorge
The Alcantara Gorge

It is very easy to get away from the tourists on the island; there are lots of very quiet small roads winding around the hills, through some fascinating small villages. Driving south along the coast there are some beautiful calm little fishing villages, appearing never to have seen a tourist.

We end in Syracuse, once the largest city in the ancient world, founded in 734 BC it’s awash with Greek ruins, lovely squares, a stunning waterside with all the usual cafes and restaurants and of course all the obligatory designer boutiques.


History surrounds you in Syracuse, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site; it is quite expectedly a beautiful city. If there is a ‘next time’ in Sicily then we would certainly stay here for a couple of days. Quick warning, anyone ‘helping’ you to park is to be avoided. We took this advice and probably saved ourselves literally hundreds of euros.

Eating well on Sicily is easy; there are so many excellent restaurants, the choice is difficult and naturally pizza is everywhere, but these are distant cousins to those we have at home. Some are so large it was impossible to finish, almost unrecognisable as a pizza, we even had one that had a topping of chips, maybe not the best idea but interesting and we ate it! In almost every restaurant we wondered what that gentleman in his three-piece suit was doing, he certainly wasn’t eating, we shouldn’t say any more!

Sicily is almost perfect, the climate, the history, the scenery, the towns and villages, the food, the wine and the people. Once is not enough!

PREVIEW: Members Only! – Resound

Following last year’s sold out Fringe performance, Excess Baggage!, Resound returns for two evenings of vocal perfection.

Members Only! Is a light-hearted look into what happens when a group of men come together to form a singing group. All love to sing and make beautiful sounding music — but what happens when you bring such radically different voices together?

Resound share their experiences of disaster, drama, and delight to discover the true value of brotherhood, friendship, and fun along the way, telling their story through an eclectic mix of songs including Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas and the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows.

Event: Members Only with Resound

Where: Brighton Friends’ Meeting House, Ship St, Brighton BN1 1AF

When:  May 24 and 25

Time: 7.45pm: Doors open 7pm, drinks available from cafe

Cost: £14 ***Group Discount*** Buy 8 tickets and get over 10% off!

To book tickets online, click here:

Breakthrough for diabetic blindness

Nature could provide the answer for blindness caused by diabetes, say experts.

MOTHER Nature could have the answer to treating several causes of blindness, according to a ground-breaking study involving scientists from the University of Surrey and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute at Indiana University School of Medicine in the USA.

The scientists have found and tested compounds from a group of plants that could possibly be used to treat the causes of degenerative eye diseases such as proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

This abnormal growth of new blood vessel cells in the eye is linked to a number of types of blindness, including in premature babies (retinopathy of prematurity), diabetics (proliferative diabetic retinopathy) and older adults (wet age-related macular degeneration).

In a paper published by the American Chemical Society, the University of Surrey, together with experts from Indiana University in America and Kingston University, detailed their testing of naturally occurring homoisoflavonoids found in the Hyacinthaceae plant family and their synthetic derivatives.

The team tested how well these compounds were able to stop the growth of new blood vessels and isolated several active compounds. One synthetic derivative in particular could be used to develop future treatments. Further work is continuing to synthesize more related compounds.

According to Great Ormond Street Hospital, retinopathy of prematurity affects around 20 per cent of premature babies and mainly occurs in those who are born before week 32 of pregnancy or weigh less than 1500g.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye – causing blindness if left untreated. It is estimated to affect 28 million people worldwide.

Wet age-related macular degeneration is one of the world’s leading causes of blindness – affecting 20 million older adults worldwide.

Prof Dulcie Mulholland
Prof Dulcie Mulholland

Professor Dulcie Mulholland, Head of Department of Chemistry at the University of Surrey, said: “It goes without saying that losing your eyesight is a devastating experience. We believe that our results hint at possible future treatments for many degenerative eye conditions and it appears that nature still has many secrets to reveal.”

Professor Tim Corson, Director of Basic and Translational Research at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute, added: “Existing therapies for these diseases must be injected into the eye, and do not work in all patients. Our findings are a first step towards therapies that might avoid these shortcomings.”

Dr Sianne Schwikkard
Dr Sianne Schwikkard

Dr Sianne Schwikkard, School of Life Sciences, Pharmacy and Chemistry, Kingston University, London (and a former Daphne Jackson Fellow 2014 – 2016, based at the University of Surrey and sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry) said: “The discovery of new and innovative treatments from natural sources for life-altering diseases has huge potential.  This work has produced a real opportunity to further collaboration and has the potential to bring new breakthroughs in the treatment of degenerative eye-diseases.”

The Stody Rainbow Garden Party 2019

Rural LGBT+ communities invited to magical gardens at Norfolk estate in association with Norwich Pride and Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Pride.

Photo: Alan Palmer
Photo: Alan Palmer

ON Saturday, May 25, 2019, Stody Lodge Gardens near Holt in North Norfolk will once again extend a special welcome and invitation to the LGBT+ communities, as well as family and friends, to celebrate diversity in all its forms within 14-acres of colourful rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and camellias.

This is the second year running that Stody Lodge Gardens has held an event in support of the rural LGBT+ communities. This year it is organised by the owners of Stody Lodge Gardens in conjunction with Norwich Pride and Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Pride. The Stody Rainbow Garden Party will build on the fantastic response to the inaugural event, The Stody Big Gay Out, which took place on May 26, 2018, but with even more fun, activities and surprises!

Richard Hulbert, Head Gardener at Stody Lodge Gardens, said; “As a gay man I am extremely proud to be sharing the extraordinary gardens at Stody Lodge in Norfolk with the wider LGBT+ communities. Through the Stody Rainbow Garden party we want to challenge the stereotype of the LGBT+ communities in a rural environment and positively promote diversity and inclusiveness.  It is my hope that this event will encourage tolerance and other similar events across the UK. I was amazed at how successful The Stody big Gay Out was and surprised at how supportive our local community were. I am really pleased to have this second opportunity to invite the LGBT+ community back to Stody Lodge Gardens.”

Photo: Alan Palmer
Photo: Alan Palmer

Kate MacNicol, owner of Stody Lodge Gardens, added; “Our rainbow-coloured gardens provide the perfect backdrop to a true celebration of the LGBT+ community. We were blown away by the feedback on last year’s event and couldn’t wait to start planning for next year. With a new name and additional partners on board there will be a huge amount of fun activities and surprises for you all to enjoy.”

Photo: Steven Brooks
Photo: Steven Brooks

Julie Bremner, a Trustee of Norwich Pride, said; “The team at Stody have been incredibly supportive and generous towards our community and we are very excited about plans for The Stody Rainbow Garden Party in May 2019. It is important that all of us show our support for those living in a rural environment and I can’t wait to once again bring some of the joy of Pride to the countryside.”

Jo Rust of Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Pride, added: “We heard about the brilliant event that took place at Stody Lodge Gardens last year and were delighted to be invited to join the team. We know how challenging it can be for someone identifying as LGBT+ who lives in the countryside. This is a fantastic initiative that has our full support.”

Photo: Julie Bremner
Photo: Julie Bremner

Joanna Jane B. a member of the transgender support group OASIS Norfolk, concluded, “Last year’s event was such a beautiful day in all respects, so many superlatives. The gardens were magnificent – the colour and scents from the azaleas and the colour of the rhododendrons was so spectacular, just superb. A credit to everyone for their hard work and dedication, not least the wonderful performance by the Sing with Pride choir. My companions for the day, Beccie, Petra and I felt so welcome, happy smiling faces everywhere and good conversation at the refreshment area. We left with an overwhelming sense of happiness and wellbeing. A lot of Oasis ladies are looking forward to returning again next year.”

Norwich Pride and Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Pride will serve rainbow cakes and homemade teas to the garden’s hungry visitors. All proceeds from the tea rooms will go to help fund Norwich’s 11th Anniversary Pride on July 27 2019 and the second Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Pride on Saturday, August 17, 2019.

Photo: Steven Brooks
Photo: Steven Brooks

All members of the public are welcome to attend The Stody Rainbow Garden Party on Saturday, May 25, 2019. As well as being able to wander through Stody’s magical 14-acre gardens, including it’s 4-acre technicolour azalea water gardens (the largest of its kind in the UK), visitors can enjoy a fantastic range of activities and entertainment. There will be live music, talks, facepainting, fantastical animals, games on the lawn and much, much more. The event is very family friendly with all ages welcome.

Entrance is £7 (cash only), children under 12 free. There is good disabled access to most areas of the garden. Accessible toilet and parking available. Dogs on leads welcome.

Anyone interested in donating a cake to the rainbow tea rooms to be served on May 25 2019 at Stody Lodge Gardens, please contact


Bus company’s push to hire more women

The week after UK companies published their gender pay gap reports, Brighton & Hove Buses’ Women Behind the Wheel campaign encourages more women to become bus drivers.

THE Brighton recruitment day at Churchill Square in May gives women the chance to get into the driver’s cab and to get the lowdown on what it’s really like to be a bus driver from some of the women who drive Brighton & Hove’s buses, with a similar event happening in Crawley in April.

Assistant Operations Manager Kirstie Bull began as a driver at Brighton & Hove in 1998.

She says: “Some women have the idea that it’s a big vehicle and they can’t drive it. I don’t know where that comes from because you can drive it.

“It’s a fantastic experience, I love it. The vantage point that you’ve got over other road users is great. Once you’ve cracked the size and the length, you’re in control. You can see everything that’s going on from behind the wheel.” 

Kirstie has worked all around the business as a driver; mentor; supervisor and scheduler, as well as in customer services and finance. She also shadowed assistant operations managers at Go-Ahead London before becoming one back here in Brighton.

“Our focus is bringing more women into the industry. We’re up and coming for women. We’re doing more to attract them and to keep them,” she said.

Kirstie was appointed Assistant Operations Manager at Lewes Road depot last year and adds: “Once I stepped on to the ladder it all happened very quickly.” 

Brighton & Hove Buses’ current driver recruitment campaign can be seen on buses and posters around the city. The campaign aims to show that drivers come from all different kinds of backgrounds and bring different talents, like ultra-marathon running, scuba diving or drumming to the table.

The company wants to recruit more women in all areas of the business, not just driving buses.

Kylie Griffiths
Kylie Griffiths

Kylie Griffiths is coming to the end of her three-year engineering apprenticeship at the company’s Conway Street depot in Hove. She’s also just been nominated for the Everywoman in Transport and Logistics’ UK Apprentice of the Year Award.

Kylie says: “It’s a very good company. I fit in fine with everybody, even though I’m quite quiet. I always have someone at work to support me and they’re always very keen to help me progress.” 

She says her college teachers hold up Brighton & Hove Buses as an example to other students of a good company to work for.  “The company has supported me from the word go. It’s a really good group of people.” 

Kylie is a diversity champion on the company’s employee-led Diversity and Inclusion group, which aims to boost the representation of women, LGBT+, BAME and disabled colleagues.

Brighton & Hove Buses’ Managing Director Martin Harris says: “We’ve set a target for women to make up at least 20% of our colleagues by 2021 and we’ll keep going once we hit it.  

“We’ve already had success attracting more women as drivers, apprentices and managers. We’ve also brought in family friendly policies, like flexible working, shared parental leave and time off for family emergencies. 

“Our internal culture is changing, partly thanks to our Diversity and Inclusion group and the Dignity and Respect campaign we run jointly with UNITE across all our depots, which promotes positive behavioural change.”

Brighton & Hove Buses’ parent company, the Go-Ahead Group, released its Gender Pay Gap Report last week (Thursday April 4).

The report shows the median pay gap at Brighton & Hove Buses is 2.4%, much lower than the 17.9% national average. The mean pay gap is 6.3% at Brighton & Hove Buses, significantly lower than the national average of 17.2%.

Judith Butler: Universities can help develop global “alliance”

In a recent visit to the University of Brighton renowned philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler said universities can bring about “new kinds of alliance” across the world in times of political upheaval.

Judith Butler with the University of Brighton's Mark Devenney
Judith Butler with the University of Brighton’s Mark Devenney

IN a wide-ranging discussion at the Critical Theories in a Global Context conference, hosted by Radical Futures at the University of Brighton, Butler encouraged academics to engage with and understand contemporary social movements.

She discussed the rise of right-wing populism and discrimination against LGBT+ people in Brazil and Turkey. Speaking about the conference, attended by academics from 43 countries, and organised with the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programmes, Butler said: “A consortium like this facilitates new forms of dialogue but also new kinds of alliance and even coalition.

Judith Butler
Judith Butler

“We stand up for each other – what happens in Turkey affects people in Brazil, what happens in Brazil affects us in California and the UK. We’re developing a global understanding about what the risks of thought are. We’re providing support, understanding and knowledge.”

Butler challenged universities not just to react to social and political change as items on the curriculum, but to become active participants in a worldwide discussion for a “more just future”.

She said: “How do we engage with a variety of publics to generate knowledge not just inside the academy but outside the academy, not just responding to social movements as objects of study but bringing them into the university?

“This is an effort not to build critical theory within the academy. It’s a way of thinking about the politics of the university in the public world, and what we can do to understand what’s happening, to offer some kind of language or site for discussion so that we can put forward visions of a more radically democratic and just future.”

It was put to Butler by Mark Devenney, Academic Lead for Radical Futures, that 30 years on from her book Gender Trouble the world was still having trouble understanding gender.

Butler cited the Donald Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military as an example of a political body declaring “the sex with which you are born is your sex and people can’t make or re-make anything about that”.

Butler added that the backlash against her work on gender – and that of other gender theorists – has included her being “demonised” in the imagery and rhetoric of those who oppose her: “Those of us who work in the area have been portrayed as witches or devilish figures, and for me as a Jewish queer person it’s particularly frightening given that I’ve also been portrayed with horns. It’s playing on the demonic character of the Jew or the lesbian or the non-gender-conforming person. I have experienced that.”

Talking about the conference itself, which was funded by the International Consortium of Critical Theory, Butler said that issues about free movement raised by Brexit fed into the content of the event.

“We have UK migration politics and the looming Brexit/no-Brexit world impinging on this conference in a very real way,” she said. “Of course what happens is that all of these issues become the substance of the conference. In some sense the impediments to holding a conference – the freedom to travel and have dissenting views and critical perspectives – these are now contentious, these are very controversial.”

To find out more about the conference and watch the full Q & A with Judith Butler view:

For more information on the University of Brighton’s Radical Futures programme click here: