Out of Water at Orange Tree Theatre
Following the success of her previous production Jess and Joe Forever, playwright Zoe Cooper unearths her new play Out of Water at the Orange Tree Theatre through an immersive exploration of gender, sexuality and prejudice. Directed by Guy Jones (Mayfly) and with a trio of performers converging the different character depictions, the show is a sensitive, witty and tangible portrayal of the struggles they all face in their inter-connected lives.
Claire (Lucy Briggs-Owen) has married her female partner Kit (Zoe West), left her avant-garde life in London and moved to the dismal, coastal town of South Shields to embark on her new job in a school, working with pre-identified premium children in an inclusion group under their new scheme. Alongside this, she has undergone endless rounds of IVF and happily fallen pregnant. Her captivating performance as an anxious, middle-class newbie trying to adapt to her new environment is utterly absorbing: her subtle mannerisms and very British upbringing bring some real humour to the piece; especially as she coyly tries to avoid the “exhausting explanations” of her unexpected sexuality, much to the annoyance to her liberal partner.
Kit is confident in her sexual identity. With boyish charm and an uplifting outlook on life, she is the perfect backbone to Claire’s vulnerabilities. West switches up her roles confidently, playing Brendan – an arrogant, swaggering, senior male member of staff who misses out on the new job over Claire – and then Dylan – the teenage, underachieving, backwards-cap-wearing student – with equally impressive gusto.
Condescending headteacher Judith Johnson is played by Tilda Wickham. They too slip easily between their roles as obnoxious teenager Hayley and then complicated gender-fluid pupil Fish. With long, poetic, watery monologues cleverly accompanied by audio snippets from geographical TV broadcasts, the actor is confident and engaging in the latter role, and ultimately opens up the discussion about gender fluidity.
Haunting sea shanty songs sung by Wickham and West help evoke visions of the coastal town in which the play is set and the simple staging, composed of plastic classroom chairs, is worked to full advantage – the props defiantly swung on or slammed down to show authority.
Cooper has managed to encompass many unconventional and strong female personalities in this endearing, heartwarming and funny piece. Out of Water concludes metaphorically with Claire dipping her toe into the ocean: “Standing at the edge of the water and deciding to walk in, how scared she must have felt. But still, she chose to walk in anyway.”
Photos: The Other Richard
Out of Water is at Orange Tree Theatre from 27th April until 1st June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.