Red Stitch have opened the year with some of the best performances I’ve seen there.
Out of the Water is by US writer Brook Berman. With parallels to The Odessy, with its journey home disrupted by sirens, it captures the unease of early middle age that’s fuelled by the palpable pain of what’s missing or what might have been.
Polly (Kate Cole) is in her later 30s and leaves New York for a funeral, one of her dead mum’s husbands, where she meets Graham (Brett Cousins), her nearly-forgotten step brother, who never left the same conservative Illinois town. They’re not related and there are drunken sparks, but Polly doesn’t expect Graham to turn up in NY or that his 17-year-old daughter with a Jesus crush, Cat (Emily Milledge), would follow.
With a story ostensibly about family and fidelity, there’s fear of movie-of-week melodrama, but it’s quickly dismissed as director Nadia Tass embraces the overt theatricality of the work and ensures a tone that lets the humour be dark and the subtext speak loudly, as the lovers say everything except what they want to.
The lighting design (Jason Bovaird) creates texture and more spaces than the design, but this cast could perform in a concrete bunker and still make us care.
Too often at Red Stitch, actors put their performances before their characters; not in this case. Cole and Cousins make the attraction between these broken and not-especially-likeable people felt as much as it’s seen, and their toeing of the not-incest-but-not-Facebook-status line makes for a tension that’s only momentarily broken with frantic – and hot and honest – sex.
Their contrast is Cat, who wants to bring her dad home but gets caught up in the excitement of being in NY, finding a perfect first kiss and wondering if falling in love is as wonderful as ice cream. Milledge (who last year came to attention in The Rabble’s Story of O and Room of Regret) finds endless hope in this teenager who knows she should be hurting and understands what her dad is going through far more than Graham does himself.
With the year starting with such complex and complete performances from a cast who work with an awareness that makes them feel like they really are family, I’m excited to see what Red Stitch – with new Artistic Director, Ella Caldwell – bring us next.