Red Stitch’s latest offering Out of the Water is a hard-hitting and genuinely interesting play about love and loneliness.

Polly (Kate Cole), in her late thirties, lives alone in New York, but the play’s opening sees her back in her hometown where she meets her ex-stepbrother Graham (Brett Cousins), whom she had almost forgotten. Sparks fly, and before you know it there have been a few rounds of drunken grief/anger sex, before they again part ways to return to their own lives. But things get complicated when Graham follows Polly back to New York, leaving behind his wife and three children, including teenaged daughter Cat who later turns up to fetch her father home.

The synopsis reads like something from a cookie-cutter Hollywood film, but it is the subtext of this play that gives it meaning and impact. Kate Cole and Brett Cousins manage to transform not-so-likeable characters into human beings that we care about deeply.

Both actors’ remarkable ability to respond to one another in each moment creates a riveting complexity in their onstage relationship, both as actors and as characters. Their use of silence and eye contact is especially effective in conveying the feelings shooting between Polly and Graham. Cole in particular deserves special mention for her lone performance in the final moments of the play: it elicited one of the most poignant heart-in-mouth moments of my theatergoing life.

Emily Milledge also gives an impressive performance as Graham’s conservative daughter Cat. When she first appears, Cat is grating, and it is hard to connect with her at all. But as we see more of her, Milledge’s deep understanding of her character become more apparent and we learn that Cat is an intelligent, complex girl who deserves our attention.

Nadia Tass’ direction is subtle and sophisticated, and shines most brightly when the actors are given space to explore the subtext inherent in the script. Jason Bovaird’s lighting design is effective in creating depth and texture in a play that encompasses a huge range of locations.

The set design is a little disappointing. It works beautifully for scenes set in Polly’s apartment, with the layout forcing characters to walk awkward, obstacle-ridden paths. But other scenes sometimes lose impact as actors are reduced to tiny corners of the stage, or have to contend with bathtubs turned into coffins, or chairs turned into trains and cars.

Scene changes, too, were clunky and long on the evening I saw it, with many feeling unnecessary. One could feel the audience getting annoyed and restless in their seats, and it too often released the tension that the actors had spent long scenes masterfully creating. 

Out of the Water presents us with courageous, committed and highly-skilled acting from performers at the height of their craft. It is a brutal play, not because of its content or staging, but because it illuminates the painful feelings in us all about what is missing from our lives, and about what could have been.