The choice to put on a production of Out of Water was a great one, especially in Cambridge: some of the issues that the play discusses are ones often shied away from or avoided here, and all of them were dealt with well in this production. While the script was a good starting point, it is certainly not responsible for all the (many) successful elements in this particular utterance of Out of Water. It really felt like a stellar example of how all the elements of a show – lighting, set, sound, direction, acting, to name a few – can work together to create something beautiful and harmonious.
The show made brilliant use of the space, although it is not necessarily a space designed for live theatre and, by the end of the production, I almost couldn’t have imagined it working quite as well anywhere else. The use of what I assume is the venue’s inbuilt projector was effective but not overdone, and the sound design was similarly employed, contributing to the production but never undermining it or seeming unnecessary. The lighting was simple but generally effective, although sadly there were a few moments when the actors weren’t lit when it felt they should’ve been – but this was, perhaps, partly due to the limitations of the venue.
One of the main things that struck me about this production was the way that all the elements came together to create a sense of collaborative storytelling, something implied by the script and its form but built upon here to great effect. The way that the set, props, and costume were all onstage, used by the actors scene by scene, really made it feel like a story was being built around us, and even with us, as I found myself spotting a prop or piece of costume that hadn’t yet been used and wondering when and how it might be. The actors were all also on stage for the majority of the performance, something which I think suited the script very well but worked best when the actors not currently in a scene were watching or felt engaged in the scene that was happening. The actors were also responsible for moving the set as the scene required, putting on costume pieces in front of us to signify a different character, and in another production, this may have felt awkward or laboured as we waited for them to pull on a blazer or move a table: here, however, it felt smooth, effective, and added to the charming sense of storytelling. The use of costume was particularly effective when different actors had to portray the same character, even just for a moment, and again created the sense that all the actors, and the crew, though not onstage, were telling us a story together, different characters taking ownership of this story at different moments.
Another way in which I think this production really worked was in its handling of the social issues the script confronts. This is not some melodramatic story about being queer or growing up in a precarious situation, but just a story about the lives of people to whom these things happen to apply to. I think the acting and direction did really well to convey this: there were scenes where acting could have been too dramatic and ruined what I felt was really special about this script, but at no point did that happen. Instead, the actors gave genuine and charming performances, conveying perfectly that, although being queer, for example, was a big part of the script, that was mostly because these characters were queer and so their everyday lives, their mundane errands or schooldays, were shaped by the reality of their gender or sexuality. The awkward moments that arise from these realities were portrayed well, in a way that felt relatable (sometimes too relatable!) and sympathetic.
The multi-roling required for this play was also done excellently, with Kitty Ford and Roma Ellis perfectly capturing, through their physicality and intonation, the spirit of unenthusiastic Year 10s. They each excelled in their ‘main’ roles for the play as well, keeping a consistent and sympathetic characterisation which helped us, alongside the costume changes, distinguish who they were in each given moment. Alix Addinall’s performance as the show’s central Claire was also brilliant – her asides to the audience were sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, creating sympathy towards her character whilst also allowing us to see Claire’s flaws through her naturalistic portrayal of the character. Overall, I felt the actors did a wonderful job at portraying the rich cast of characters the script provided them with, never venturing into caricature or stereotype, giving them all a well-rounded treatment.
Whether you’re queer, from the North East, or neither, go see this production if you can: at its heart, it is a group of very talented people coming together to tell us a story about characters doing their best to navigate life, but not always getting it right; it’s filled with relatable moments and told in a collaborative and innovative way that I don’t think we see enough of in Cambridge.