Preview: ‘Out of Water’

Tom Chandler 21 February 2022
Image Credit: Harry Taylor

In anticipation of ‘Out of Water’ showing at the Old Divinity School this week, I sat down with their director, Bronagh Leneghan to discuss her role, and the play.

T: Hey, nice to meet you! Do you want to tell me a bit about who you are, and what your role is in ‘Out of Water’?

B: Yeah, so my name’s Bronagh, I’m a second year, studying politics at Homerton, and I’m directing. I’d never really been a director before, I’d always been kind of scared of it, and never found the right play that I wanted to do but last year I made an effort to find a play that really spoke to me. I’m from the North-East of England, so when I found ‘Out of Water’ I was like ‘Oh my god, a play about lesbians in the North-East, it’s about state schools, it’s perfect, this is the one.’ I never thought I could direct or have a vision for a play but as soon as I found this play, it really encouraged me and I’ve really enjoyed it.

T: So, what’s the rehearsal process been like? How have you approached directing for the first time?

B: So, in my head, directing was always like ‘This is what I want you to do and you’re going to do it.’ But because it’s only a three person cast, a lot more comes from it being a collaborative process, so although I have my vision, I made sure the actors know these are their characters and I wanted them to feel comfortable as them on stage, so I’ve had quite a lot of recommendations from the actors themselves about what they want to do with it.

T: That sounds wonderful! So I just wanted to ask you about what it’s been like working in a non-ADC venue? How did the Old Divinity School come about as a venue?

B: So, basically, I felt when I read it that I had to do this as soon as possible because I feel like I’ve not seen much northern representation here and then, on top of that, queer representation that isn’t solely middle-class. This is a story about people who are gay in a working class community. They’re two identities that can be together, but I haven’t seen it often. The fact it took me quite a while to find the play is a symptom of that. Because of the nature of the play, quite intimate, I wanted a space where it was small, and the Divinity School got back to me. It meant that I had to do a lot of the process myself, but it’s been a really nice experience, and it hasn’t been much more difficult. The space is actually really nice, it’s quite fitting for what the story is, as it’s quite a grand Cambridge room, and the story is the opposite of that. It’s about people who are in a different world entirely. I see home and here as two different places in my head, so it’s been nice to see that represented on stage, and what it means to put that on here, like actual genuine northern characters.

T: I’m from North Yorkshire myself, so I completely agree, it’s why I wanted to do this preview with you! Because it’s so cool to see something like that going on here.

B: Definitely, and it’s just telling that the stories are out there. I feel like I didn’t have that much exposure to theatre before I came here and because I’ve been trying to navigate that myself, I’ve been trying to find plays that I want to hear. It’s been quite affirming, personally, because it is quite close to my own experience, like how I felt at a State School in the North-East. A lot of them are under-funded and in special measures, it’s interesting to bring that here. Reading the characters, they’re so vivid. Yeah, it’s been really affirming that people want to hear these stories as well, because they’re just as interesting, and the characters are so full and really amazing, and it really contextualises it so well. People’s attitudes in a de-industrialised community, you can’t expect them to be so vastly liberal and accepting, because it’s a product of what’s happened to their communities in the past.

T: I noticed you’ve got a dialect coach on board?

B: Yes!

T: What’s it been like bringing not only northern people but northern accents to Cambridge?

B: So the actors have been so willing to just learn and listen and really think about it. I encouraged them to ease into the accent and just try with it, and having another person who’s assigned to the dialect coaching, Sarah (Mulgrew), has been able to have a really narrow focus whilst I’ve had a broad one. She pulled together a little dialect pack, and found examples for all of the characters, and it’s quite nice to break it down – you just need to slow down your voice, or maybe say words with different vowels. It’s funny though – so Sarah’s also from Newcastle, and she we’ll be like ‘Nah, nah, that’s Yorkshire.’

T: Yeah, there’s so much variation in North-East accents.

B: Yeah, exactly. And it’s sometimes so funny, because people have been like ‘So, are you from Scotland?” – what? No!? Scotland? Because I don’t think I sound like that at all. My parents are coming to see it, and for them to hear that accent on a stage in Cambridge, and see that I still want to represent their community, it’s been a really nice experience. One other thing I’d like to mention is that I’ve picked a charity called Be: Trans Support and Community, for our profits to go to. It’s based in central Newcastle and it provides counselling and a safe space for trans people in the North-East. Because what’s the point in doing this story about the North-East if I’m not giving anything back – because even though being from the North-East is part of my heritage, I’ve benefited from moving away, so I’d like to give back. When I did research into this, I found research on how isolating different parts of the country are for LGBT+ people, and I think the North-East was one of the highest which made a lot of sense, and validated how I felt when I was there.

T: Absolutely, and I think it’s so important, because we are there as queer people, we exist, but it is isolating.

B: I think the play also tells a story that you don’t need to leave to be that person – like it’s hard because you do have to be brave, and have a thick skin, but people are there because that’s their home. I think that’s one of the most important things: how do you foster that community for people? I just really wanted to do something that meant it wasn’t just about Cambridge, I wanted to give back. But yeah, it’s just been a really lovely experience, and I’ve been really lucky with my cast and crew.

T: I’m so glad to hear you’ve enjoyed it! Thank you so much for talking to me! Best of luck!

‘Out of Water’ is on in the Old Divinity School from the 22nd-25th February. Tickets can be bought here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/out-of-water-by-zoe-cooper-tickets-253754024117?utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-term=listing&utm-source=cp&aff=escb&fbclid=IwAR11OrFKQylU7hOuPnCy6OMqt47q5Y-zwWxCuJomYHzZ-D8d-x8wOAz4IUQ