Review: The Memory of Water
All memories are false except for mine – your memories are wrong. So runs one of the themes in Shelaph Stephenson’s 1996 comedy The Memory of Water. A trio of sisters go through the belongings of their dead mother Vi ahead of her funeral prompting conflicting bitter-sweet memories of their collective and individual pasts.
Directed by Ann Ellison in the round at Bath’s Mission Theatre, the Next Stage company’s production is a spirited and evocative interpretation of the play first performed at the Hampstead Theatre and subsequently adapted for the screen as the movie Before You Go in 2002.
Vi reappears periodically under a ghostly light to haunt and taunt middle daughter Mary, the brains of the family and now a doctor, revealing her troubled teenage years. As the sisters Mary, Teresa and Catherine rummage through their mother’s vanity cases, cupboards, clothing and dressing table so the secrets emerge and the bickering begins. Who really does accurately remember the past or do we simply recall events to fit our own view of ourselves and those around us?
To complicate matters Mary’s married TV Doctor lover Mike appears chilled to the bone through a window and Teresa’s discontented husband Frank arrives equally frozen from a long train journey as the snow falls outside Vi’s pokey flat.
Ever present (unlike Catherine’s Spanish boyfriend who never appears) is Vi played with a sneering haughtiness by Jane Lawson who seems intent on doing down her daughters from beyond the grave.
Richard Matthews as testosterone-fuelled Mike injected tension and passion into his confrontations with a defensive Mary (Hayley Fitton-Cook) with some brilliant moments of home truths as she reveals she’s pregnant. And it’s their final scene where Hayley Fitton-Cook is at her best as she comes to terms with her past and her present with Mike and herself.
With her pink skirt and animal print top Georgi Bassil is every inch the angst filled youngest sister Catherine with her shopping bags and penchant for booze and joints. She does justice to her ‘I went to this counsellor’ monologue delightfully revealing she’s slept with 78 men – it’s the female friends she has a problem with she claims. Lively, attention seeking and with a character that is so see-through we can all relate to, this was a highly enjoyable portrayal of the me-me-me sibling.
Perhaps the hardest role was that of the middle sister Teresa played with a suitable resentment by Liz Wilson who tries to keep it all together aided by her herbal remedies and martyr complex. She’s not helped by ranting husband Frank (played with understated anger by Robert Edwards) who is intent on undoing everything she stands for. The duo represent so many middle aged married couples whose relationship has run its course with the aftermath of Vi’s death bringing their problems to the surface.
This is a gripping and enjoyable production with the socially distanced audience close to the action with the feeling that you are in the room as the bickering breaks out into blazing rows over who’s memory is true or false.
The play runs from Tuesday 25th-Thursday 27th May and Monday 7th – Wednesday 9th June, 2021.
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