Elijah W Harris who has transitioned to become a man is on the road with a play full of personal resonances for him.
Following three critically-acclaimed runs in London and a highly-successful transfer to New York, Donnacadh O’Briain’s Olivier-award winning production of Rotterdam embarks on an extensive UK tour, with dates including Theatre Royal Brighton from Monday to Wednesday, April 8-10.
Written by Jon Brittain, co-creator of Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, the play is a bittersweet comedy about gender, sexuality and being a long way from home.
It’s New Year in Rotterdam, and Alice has finally plucked up the courage to email her parents and tell them she’s gay. But before she can hit send, her girlfriend Fiona reveals that he has always identified as male and now wants to start living as a man named Adrian. Now, as Adrian confronts the reality of his transition, Alice faces a question she never thought she’d ask... does this mean she’s straight?
Elijah is delighted to join the cast. He remembers when the play transferred to the West End – remembers it as a landmark moment given all that the play is talking about.
“It was in the first year of my medical transitioning and I didn’t see it, but in a way watching something like that could have been just a bit too intense for me. It was a bit too close to home. I was going through it myself and didn’t really need to relive it through someone else!”
But now his own experience certainly help him bring truth and authenticity to the play, Elijah feels: “There is a preconceived notion that transitioning is something with a beginning and an end, but the reality is that it is much more open than that.
"You go through a whole lot of things personally and emotionally before you start medically transitioning. For me, it was like a long time coming and I had processed a lot so from my point of view it all happened quite quickly in the end. I started hormones in October 2015 and then I had surgery six months after that. But I would not say by any stretch that I have stopped transitioning. I am not sure that I ever will. But I am now much more comfortable and confident in my body. And I am much more comfortable playing with different aspects of masculinity and femininity.”
Acting itself has also been part of the journey.
“I was wanting to act ever since I was a teenager. I did GCSE drama and A level drama and then I did a degree in drama and theatre arts. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was going back and forth with my parents who were saying that I should do something in the meantime like teaching. But I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to give it my best shot. And I have not stopped just wanting to give it my best shot. You start to think about success and you wonder whether you have achieved it, but it is a cumulative thing, and it feels like this year I have taken a step up.”
Looking back, Elijah can see a relationship between the acting and the transitioning: “I have always had such a confidence in performance, but I suffered very strongly with anxiety in my real life. People would see me act and would say ‘I never thought you would be able to do that!’ because I was so confident with acting and so sure of myself in a way I just wasn’t in every-day life.”
But now, further down that transitioning journey, Elijah is confident that the gap is closing…