four characters in the memory of water play

The Memory of Water

Theatre HB / 
19-28 March 2020 / 
By Ian Thomas

The bonds that bind and scar tissue that smarts in sibling relationships are pivotal and familiar.

Three sisters, and two of their partners, gather in the home of their recently deceased mother. 

The Memory of Water won the Laurence Olivier Award for best new comedy in 2000 and provides wonderful material. The pace is just right. The balance and mixture of characters is always enthralling. Poignancy and comedy beautifully meshed in clever dialogue.

All of the action takes place in recently-departed-Vi’s bedroom. The bed is central, up-stage on a raked wooden floor. Gaps between the boards are colourfully lit from beneath. 

The set is both simple and striking, well done Robert Hickey. It certainly establishes a high standard, which is maintained by the cast. 

As each sister shares more of her character, more of her wounds, more of her recollections of childhood the story swells in layers of hurt, old frustrations and present day challenges. They are all very real people. Comedy peppers the exchanges, adding to the authenticity of the bickering sisterhood. 

Arriving to bury their mother with more mental than material baggage, the women unpack their memories of their mother, of each other, and of family events. Events are consistently remembered differently by each sister. There’s therapy in the telling and the disagreements of details. The play rings a multitude of bells recalling times of death, family recriminations, and the barbed banter of blood-tied jokers. We know these people, somewhere we’ve heard their stories, their worries, their gripes, their coping mechanisms. Whiskey, rescue remedy, or reciting recipes are all cures for anxiety.

The actors are well cast, each one relishing the material. The sisters are brought convincingly and congruously to life by Natalie Sandbrook, Bridie Thomson, and Sandra Alseben. Daniel Pooley plays Mike, Mary’s long-time, never-going-to-leave-his-wife love interest. Neil McCorkell is Frank, Teresa’s husband. Clair Rochester is Vi who returns to council Mary and ready herself for the big bright light. The cast, like the script, and the set are a joy to observe. There’s an overriding feeling of completeness. A lack of holes.  A superb, well-rounded performance without substantial flaws. I laughed, cried, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

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