Presented by: Theatre Royal Productions
Written by: Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by: Ben Barnes
Reviewed by: Monica Insinga
The Memory of Water is a compelling play about the possibility and the meaning of sharing: sharing memories, sharing life with one’s own family. By bringing three sisters together for their mother’s funeral, Shelagh Stephenson dissects her female characters by visibly showing the cracks within their psyches, touching on gender stereotypes, visually exploring them in order to expose their limits.
The play takes place in Vi’s (the mother’s) bedroom: it is an intimate, female space, full of memories, where her three daughters—Mary, Teresa, and Catherine—together (or isolated) face their personal issues while dealing with the loss of their mother. Joe Vanek’s set with its deep crack on the wall coming down directly above the bed, and Eamon Fox’s atmospheric use of lighting immediately compels us to look beyond the surface and into the symbolic layers of their visualisation of the issues at the heart of the Stephenson’s text. In the course of what we could consider a process of self-analysis brought on by a traumatic event, certain deep truths are revealed.
The inherent conflict within the mother-daughter relationship as well as the bond between sisters are at the core of the play, despite the fact that all these women choose to first relate themselves to their men—at least on the surface. This is envisioned by the presence of Violet (or simply Vi), mostly evoked by Mary to deal with some deep-seated regret in her life, and to try and come to terms with their estranged relationship post-mortem.
Even though Charlie Bonner (Mike) and Michael Power (Frank) provide the right counterbalance to this essentially female journey, the great absence is that of Vi’s husband, the sisters’ father. From what we gather he was never present in his daughters’ lives, just like Catherine’s boyfriend chooses to leave her on the phone in the second act, at such a precarious moment.
Despite the serious matter at the centre of the play, Ben Barnes’s direction is light, fluid and witty. He uses irony and comedy at the right times to highlight the process these three women are going through, without falling into easy sentimentalisms, and thoroughly entertaining the audience.
Jenni Ledwell (Mary), Julia Lane (Teresa), and Emily Nagle (Catherine) all deliver sharp and touching performances, both in their group scenes, revealing acute sisterly dynamics, while never underplaying their individual issues. The scenes between Ledwell and Lynda Gough (Vi) are particularly significant, played with mastery by two apparently different types of performers, and yet showing soulful recognition.
Moving with the fluidity of water, absorbing the discrepancies created by contradictory sets of memories, this production achieves outstanding levels of meaning, allowing its audience to fully engage with and respond to what happens on stage. An impressive production.