The Memory Of Water

  • Date:
    Tuesday, January 19, 1999

    The story concerns three sisters who are reunited when they attend their mother's funeral. Memories are stirred up and secrets are revealed as they each come to terms with their mother's death.

    This is a painful and funny play that is typical of most families who have gone their own way and done their own things only to reunite at such occasions. The play reveals how all the sisters are insecure and lonely. All are longing to be loved and find lasting happiness. But life rarely turns out that way.

    This beautiful production directed by the much liked and talented Terry Johnson, whose recent work includes directing "Elton John's Glasses" at the Queens last year and his own play "Cleo, Camping Emmanuelle and Dick" at the National, is dominated by a fine cast, particularly Alison Steadman ("When We Are Married" Savoy Theatre, "The Provok'd Wife" Old Vic). Alison plays the oldest sister, 'Teresa', a nervous wreck and health food freak, and who stayed behind to look after mum when the other sisters left home. She was loyal to the end, but she was lonely. 'Teresa' resents the fact that her sister ' Mary' was spoilt by her mother who helped her to receive a good education and thus 'Mary' went on to become a successful doctor able to travel the world, while 'Teresa' was left at home. Alison has superb comic timing, which she puts to great effect. I particularly liked the part when 'Teresa' gets drunk and reveals some home truths. Normally when an actor is playing someone who is drunk I find it unconvincing and irritating, but Alison pulled it off to perfection and was very funny and touching at the same time. I loved her bottom lip!!

    Samantha Bond is also a dominant force on stage and is fast becoming a sought after actress. Her West End shows in recent years include "Three Tall Women" at the Wyndham's, "Amy's View" at the Aldwych, and "The Ends of the Earth" for the Royal National Theatre. She is also well known for her characterisation of 'Moneypenny' in the last two James Bond films, and she is currently working on the latest. What I notice is that she seems to be turning into a Judi Dench. She certainly has a similar tone of voice and bodily posture. At times I was thinking, "I'm looking at a young Judi Dench here!" Samantha has great presence on stage and her performance in this drama is convincing as 'Mary', a high flyer who is in love with a married man and seems very happy, but underneath is still haunted by an event from her past and by her relationship with her mother.

    The youngest sister 'Catherine' is played by Julia Sawalha, who is probably best known for her roles on TV. Notably as 'Saffron' in "Absolutely Fabulous", as well as playing characters in "Faith in The future", " Second Thoughts" and many other TV series. At first I found her performance a little over the top, acting a spoilt brat who is a drug taking hypochondriac. However, as the play progresses I found this 'over acting' was not over acting at all, but was needed so as to develop the character for the later part of the play.

    There is a superb performance by Mark Lambert as 'Frank', the man ''Teresa' married after meeting on a blind date. He has a great accent that many may not understand, and is wonderful as the downtrodden husband who is always tired after travelling around Europe selling Natural care products! Patrick Drury stars as 'Mike', the married man who gets caught up in the family feud. Margot Leicester plays ' Vi' the sisters' mother, who tried hard to do the best for her children but was never taken seriously by them. They all perform competently.

    The show has received some good notices from the popular press: ROBERT GORE-LANGTON of THE DAILY EXPRESS says "The coffin jokes have an appealing Joe Orton-style blackness, giving a sharp edge to the play's more sentimental instincts. " PAUL TAYLOR of THE INDEPENDENT says it is a "Highly entertaining production." MICHAEL BILLINGTON of THE GUARDIAN says, "Alison Steadman is very funny as Teresa." JANE EDWARDES of TIME OUT says the show is "Touching, unsentimental and often very funny." LISA MARTLAND of THE STAGE says the author has an " ability to switch a light-hearted mood to one of great sadness". However, NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD was not too hot on the play saying, "The constant air of bitter back-biting irritates rather than illuminates "and goes on to say "The Memory of Water is mainly enjoyable for the performances of three super actresses".

    Lasting two and half hours 'The Memory of Water" is a show that many will find funny, poignant and thought provoking. For me it made me want to go home and hug my mum and all the family!

    (Darren Dalglish)

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