The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson
The realistic, well observed and detailed set prepared us for an equally forensic examination of the lives and attitudes of the three daughters. Teresa, the oldest (Moyra Brookes) quickly established the character of the dutiful daughter relied upon by the two others to take on the responsibilities of caring for the ageing and latterly, hospitalised mum. Her obsession with all things natural and organic is quickly established as is her irritation with and scorn for her siblings.
Moyra Brookes played with great consistency, the very set of her head declared her supremacy among the sisters. The head gradually lowered as she lost her composure completely when finally tempted by both a spliff and a quantity of whisky. Her acid turn of phrase reached its most bitter as she revealed her “clever’ sister’s teenage pregnancy. The performance was sustained and developed throughout. It was a well observed and entirely credible characterisation. Although the butt of some of the comic moments she conveyed the frustration of many a sister who finds herself “in charge” of the older parents. Her portrayal of the woman unused to much liquor becoming slowly more and more drunk was excellent and totally convincing. This is very difficult to achieve on stage but she was entirely convincing and funny and tragic at the same time. The crumbling of the family cornerstone, as she saw herself, was very poignant.
In the opening moments of the play we also met Mary. She is revealed as an overcommitted and exhausted doctor trying to sleep off the last shift. Played by Sarah Mullins, this character was perhaps the most sober, unsmiling of all. Her obsession with one patient’s welfare impinged even upon her personal life, but there was a darker side to Mary as we learnt later. Her sharp reposts and unsmiling expression carried through most of the play, but the revelation of the real tragedy came much later. Its announcement by Teresa was cruel and unvarnished. Later, however, Teresa revealed the caring and more tender side of her nature as she told Mary of the hidden tragedy. An explanation perhaps, for her taking on the responsibility of her mother’s wellbeing.
The third sister was the whirlwind of a character, Catherine, played by Helen Dixon. She was the peripheral figure of the family as far as she was concerned and slightly written off by the other two sisters. The role was played with huge energy and variety which was well sustained throughout. Her mercurial change of mood, her inventions of half truths were both the tragedy and the comedy of her life. Her plea to be understood and loved was a real crie de coeur, but laughed at by us probably because there is a bit of Catherine in us all
The three sisters vie with varying degrees of vehemence for the “starring role” in all the half remembered family sagas of childhood. The one thing they seem to agree on is that Mary was the favoured child, the one whose cleverness had to be protected and cosseted and who ultimately became a doctor.
The one thing that the daughters share is a disappointment in their relationships with men. Theresa has the most stable partnership with Frank. He is the one she depends on for everything. He is her second husband and she chose him via a dating agency. Frank (Murray Stephen) portrayed the tolerant and long suffering Frank with commitment and consistency. He physically dominated the stage which was fortuitous given the character he played. His head was hung a little low so we rarely got a full face which was a shame. He did however, play the comic moments with great success and prompted lots of laughter. Even when finally standing up for himself he inspired laughter that rocked the studio.
Mike (Mike Ayres) made a hugely comic entry through the window. A doctor having a long term affair with Mary, he came across as an affable and easy going even affectionate partner. He contributed well to the comedy, but ultimately he too made a considerable contribution to Mary’s sense of hopelessness. Essentially the most privileged of the sisters, she suffers the greatest sense of disappointment with life at the hands of the easygoing Mike.
Off stage as it were, there is Xavier, commonly referred to as Pepe much to the annoyance of Catherine. Xavier is Catherine’s Spanish “boyfriend” but he too finally fails the ultimate test and abandons Catherine, in a brief telephone conversion.
I have left consideration of the character of the ghost of mother Vi (Elaine Burns) until last, because in many ways she is the most important character in the play. She visits Mary because as she says ‘I look at you and I see myself’ and gives the mother’s point of view. It was played with great clarity and sympathy and was the “glue” that held the story and indeed the production together. The playing was very engaging and totally convincing. The fact that we could “see the ghost” didn’t in any way upset one’s suspension of disbelief. Her interpretation gave stability and credence to the comedy.
The interplay and ensemble playing was of a very high standard indeed. there were no weak moments and the comedy flowed almost until the end. There was a momentary touch of farce as Mike’s bright cerise bath towel towel slipped almost revealing all. It was well timed whether it was deliberate or not, we shall never know. However it added to the momentary revelations of flesh that were an integral part of the “family” at ease. There were many moments of high comedy. Too many to identify in detail, but Catherine seeking comfort from Frank as he lay exhausted on the bed and the sisters trying on their mother’s old clothes will remain in the memory for some time. Both scenes were highly comic and served to enhance the poignancy off the situation.
The costuming and set were, as always with Nomad productions, absolutely perfect. Sound and lighting, suitably discreet, gave a delicate touch of icing on the cake. There is nothing “Am Dram” about this team.
Polly 6 July 2017