The cast of The Memory of Water from top and left to right: Alice Lamb, Anna Friend, Livvie May, Adam Elms, Giles Coran and Diane Lukins

The Memory of Water, Alma Tavern Theatre, Bristol
Tightly directed, tense, and laced with home truths, plus a cast on top form, Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water flips from high comedy to bleak emotional desolation in this sharp production at the Alma.
The drama centres around the reactions of three sisters to their mother Vi’s death as they attempt to sort out her clothes in her bedroom ahead of her funeral. As a kind of therapy in going through Vi’s collection of dresses and accessories it allows the trio to reflect on their childhood, their mother and their relationships with each other.
The oldest sister Teresa (Anna Friend) attempts to take charge of the work but is given little help by tired middle sister Mary (Alice Lamb) a qualified doctor and her attention seeking younger sister Catherine (Livvie May). Complicating matters is Mary’s partner Mike (Giles Coran) who is married and won’t leave his wife and Teresa’s husband Frank (Adam Elms) whose matter of fact personality conflicts with the highly charged atmosphere.
The Schoolhouse Production is directed with a tautness by Adam Elms making the most of the confined space of the Alma Tavern Theatre. Elms also plays Frank, husband of the older sister Teresa (Anna Friend) using his flat nasal tones as the perfect contrast to the heightened emotional voices of the sisters. His battles with Teresa are one of the strong strands of humour in the play as the age old arguments of husband and wife always strikes a chord with audiences.
As were the sister’s arguments over their collective pasts as they only remembered what mattered to them revealing very different perceptions of their upbringings. At times the chemistry between the sisters was so electrically charged as they argued and fought each other it made my skin shiver as I remembered my own trio of arguing sisters in their firey exchanges.
Diane Lukins as Vi excelled in her ghostly appearances – at first in her glamorous past life dressed to turn heads and later in dowdy nightgown and cap. Livvie May was brilliant as Catherine switching from highs to lows with her commitment to her character. Alice Lamb as the screwed up Mary was equally excellent and believable as her troubled past spills out amid the dawning reality of her hopeless relationship with Mike.
His shivering appearance at the window was one of those changes of direction that kept an unpredictabilty in the play’s construction. And it was those sharply defined changes of pace coupled with first class performances that makes this an exceptional production.
Harry Mottram
The play runs from February 19-23, 2019.