Review: Out of Water

OUT OF WATER, at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond to June 1st. Tickets and information here

IN BRIEF Captivating and enquiring new play about difference and courage is lifted high by subtle direction and a trio of highly accomplished performances

OUT OF WATER is by Zoe Cooper, the writer of the charming and engaging JESS AND JOE FOREVER, previously seen at the Richmond Orange Tree in 2016.

Claire has uprooted herself from London to South Shields, where she and wife Kit are nearer to Kit’s family, the financial possibility of “buying a whole house” and to have a baby. But away from her own family and all that she has grown up with, in a very different environment Claire becomes an “outsider” again, and she reverts. She “Goes In”, guarded about how she communicates with others, especially about revealing her sexuality.

Starting work at a struggling local school (all knackered parquet floors, bucket chairs and fluorescent lighting) running an inclusion class for pupils who “don’t fit in”, her empathetic connection with a bullied young transgender teenager, Fish, leads Claire into dark and choppy waters when trying to confront her own “difference”, which unlike Fish, she has the choice to make -or not make- visible.

A perfectly cast trio of actors adroitly weave in and out of narrative and characters, quickly and vividly drawn, with a strong ensemble connection. Lucy Briggs-Owen as Claire perfectly captures that slight edge that teachers have in their manner, always “on-guard” which makes their actions feel overly-constructed. She gives Claire a detailed authenticity that’s easy to read.  Zoe West as police officer/wife Kit plays her with a down to earth confidence but an awareness of barriers between them, often caused by Claire’s denial, which have to be overcome. It’s a sensitive portrayal of frustrated love. Tilda Wickham gives a mesmerising performance as Fish, burning with a self-belief and finding their own way through by embracing their “found” story, in the process giving us an heroic, detailed and rounded interpretation.

In between the scenes haunting, a capella traditional songs are expertly sung and lend the show a kind of mystical, poetic context as well as giving some sense of place. Guy Jones’ subtle direction allows the characters space to breathe, working well with Zoe Cooper’s empathetic, often humorous and enquiring script which encourages forging new ways to “see” ourselves; rather than simply “defining” ourselves for others.

The dilapidated school set by Camilla Clarke is well-observed and contains a few surprises, but frankly I could have done without the bum-numbing bucket chairs which make up row A downstairs (the rest of the seating is much softer!)

The closing of the play is hopeful, suggesting that progress is possible and that people can change, however the reality is that we still live in a world where equality does not equal acceptance. This complex and poetic play reminds us that it takes real courage to be yourself.

OUT OF WATER plays at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond to June 1st. Tickets and information here