New Era Players: The Memory of Water, at the New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from Thursday, December 4, to Sunday, December 14
New Era Players' ambitious production of Shelagh Stephenson's The Memory of Water is certainly challenging. The play explores the themes of memory, bereavement and family relationships. The title derives from the homeopathic principle that water can 'remember' the properties of a substance long after it has been diluted and the substance is no longer present.
Three disparate sisters gather together for the funeral of their mother who had been suffering from Alzheimers. The talented, committed cast of six actors, under the astute direction of Richard Colley, all gave exceedingly fine performances.
Kathleen Ray perfectly captured the assertive eldest daughter Teresa, who runs an alternative therapy business. The scene in which she got progressively drunk was hilarious. She has taken on the burden of looking after her 78-year-old mother Vi (Sue Keer) who is in the later stages of the disease and would leave her glasses in the oven. We see her as a ghostlike figure, all dressed up in her finery as she observes the girls, both remembering and disapproving of what they have become.
The middle sister is the down-to-earth doctor Mary, an acerbic performance by Suzanne Hudson, who is desperate just to get some sleep. She has been having an affair over the past five years with married Mike, nicely characterised by David Tute. Mary also has a dark shocking secret that was slowly revealed. The moments when she talks to the dead mother that only she can see are most moving and revealing.
Completing the trio is the pot-smoking, neurotic, shoe-shopping fanatic Catherine, who has slept with 78 men but is still unhappy and lonely - a vivacious energetic portrayal by the excellent Vikki Goldsmith.
Nigel Winter gives a splendid interpretation with wonderful comic timing of Frank, Teresa's long-suffering husband who hates being in the family business.
As the practical Teresa organises her mother's clothes to go to the charity shop, the girls decide to try on the dresses, provoking memories as a party atmosphere fuelled by alcohol and pot envelopes them with much laughing and hilarity. However, their childhood memories differ as they recount the same incidents from their individual perspectives, most revealing. When the coffin is brought to the house the evening before the funeral the finality of the situation begins to take hold as the feeling of loss of their mother brings the sisters closer together.
This bittersweet black comedy, running at over two-and-a-half hours, is a cautionary reminder of family bickering and remembrances, and certainly deserved the applause.
© 2014 Newbury Weekly News
The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson was first staged in 1996 at the Hampstead Theatre. It was received well and subsequently transferred to the West End where it went on to win an Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2000.
On the eve of their mother’s funeral three sisters meet at the family home. In the highly charged atmosphere of the occasion, conflicts of the family past converge and everyday lies and tensions reveal the particular patterns and strains of family relationships.
The play might best be described as a tragicomedy. It is certainly comic in the sense that there are many extremely humorous interchanges between the characters and some exceedingly funny lines but the overall tone of the play moves beyond pure comedy and has considerable dramatic depth.
The major theme of the play is the nature of memory. The play focuses on the reflections by the three sisters on the way their mother brought them up. The inevitable review of the years that have passed between the sisters that unfolds during the course of the play relies on memory, memory which is often faulty and coloured by subsequent experiences. The act of remembering and the nature of forgetfulness are significant themes of the play.
Alongside the three sisters there are three other characters in the play. The mother appears as a spectre to just one of her daughters and this meeting contributes to the play’s exploration of the nature of memory. Further plot development both tragic and comic is aided by the male partners of two of the sisters.