Memory of Water - by
Shelagh Stephenson 
29th, 30th, 31st October 2009

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Cast        Production Team
Mary Roz Gerrie   Director Jean Cooper
Vi Cathy Lawrence   Production Assistant Frances Dennis
Teresa Karen Rogers   Stage Manager Jonathan Denne
Catherine Lisa Maule   Assistant Stage Manager Sarah Riches
Mike Iain Howland   Properties Howard Platt
Frank Martin Howarth   Assistant Properties Sophie Robertson
      Continuity Babs Oakley
      Costume Christine Eckley
      Set Design & Construction Garry Cooper
      Lighting Design Terry Tew
      Sound Design Jean Cooper
      Sound/Lighting Operation Lucy Parkin & Matt Cole
      Scenic Artist Gerry Mcgrath
      Production Photos Howard Platt

Review by  Jacqui Stedman

This was a well observed play highlighting the differences in the way we remember things, and our part in the memories.  When I saw the play previously it never struck me as a comedy, but there are some wonderful lines which caused laughter even in this most poignant of circumstances.  This was also a very good observation both by the author and the director about how people react  directly after a bereavement and the tears and possible hysteria which lies just below the surface.  ‘You look dead like Mum’ says Catherine, causing all the sisters to collapse in paroxysms of laughter/hysteria.

Well designed set allowed us to have a good sight of Mary as she lay in bed.  The furniture was arranged in such a way that the whole stage was used, so I was surprised when on a couple of occasions Mary went right over SR (almost against the pros arch) to deliver some of her lines – especially when she was arguing with Mike.  The crack in the back wall, the style of furniture, the bedclothes and soft furnishings, and the armchair, established the fact that the room had been occupied by an elderly person, so we were in no doubt that this was the mother’s room.  I particularly liked the soft light which flooded the stage when the deceased mother was present.  It changed the whole feeling of the action and, because it was on the same side of the colour ‘circle’ as the mother’s dress seemed to be very much reflecting her personality, making Mary seem rather like an intruder.  Even as they carried out the coffin and the light changed again, it was almost as if she was still present in the room although unable to show herself because Mary (who I felt was the personality which drew her mother) was not present.  Good strobe effect for the taking of the photograph and quite eerie when it flashed for a second time to see Vi on the end of the line!  I was pleased to see that there was a notice about the strobe lighting in the foyer – I think there should also have been one about smoking in the play too, just to allay the fears of the audience.  It was intrinsic to the plot in this case so there would not have been a problem artistically, but it is usual to have a notice on display if at all possible.

Creating a ‘family’ on stage is very difficult because the gene pools of the players are not the same.  Consequently the director has to work very hard with the actors to ensure that this illusion can be created in a believable way.  The three sisters in this play, although very different, actually became more believable as the play progressed.  There emerged grievances which Teresa and Catherine felt because of Mary’s studies, slights Catherine had suffered because she felt no one ever listened to her,  and the spilling of the beans about Mary’s pregnancy and its eventual outcome.  It appeared to me that the responsibility for all these conditions lay with Vi, who had inadvertently lost touch with her daughters.

Mary – Roz Gerrie

She was obviously under a lot of pressure as a doctor and in an imperfect relationship with a married man – hence the shortness of fuse.  As a doctor, too, she would have seen far more incidents of death than her sisters so that could account for a rather matter of fact attitude – but she was Mary’s mother, so I would have expected an element of distress.  A lot of dialogue was on the same level and would have benefitted from more natural rhythms in the way it was delivered  – maybe a hand gesture (not large) or two.  Roz should try and think about how she speaks normally and what gestures she uses in general conversation.  When anger is required try not to screech because words are lost then.  Mary was portrayed as a very ’driven’ woman and a good doctor, but managed to show that softness about wanting a child at the age of 39. 

She  was also very angry about Mike not leaving his wife (justly so) but still managed to deliver some of those beautiful cutting lines clearly so that they were not lost.  When Mary  was awakened by Teresa I think she should have been more dozey and sleepy in your responses

Teresa – Karen Rogers

I started by feeling very sorry for Teresa because she was the one, I felt, who had been left to sort out Mum because she hadn’t moved away.  She kept busy to stop herself from thinking too much about her mother’s sudden death, and this is very often what keeps people going until after the funeral when life has to resume.  However, I would have liked to see little moments of hesitant realisation of the fact.  When she was searching for her electronic organiser and turning out her handbag on the bed only to find it wasn’t there, I think she might have been overwhelmed by the frustration and this could have manifested itself in a small collapse on the bed.

Try and slow down the delivery of lines even though the character is busy – they are all important in building the character’s personality.  It was very obvious that Teresa did not approve of either of her sisters or their lifestyles, and that she wasn’t altogether contented with the life she was living either, but I lost all sympathy with the character when she dropped the bombshell about Mary’s pregnancy.  I know they say ‘in vino veritas’ but this was cruel in the extreme and she delivered the news as a kind of trump card, focussing only  on how difficult it had been for the mother and herself.  Playing drunk is extremely difficult and dialogue has to be carefully delivered so as not to be lost – maybe some hesitation or duplication in the delivery of the words would have helped.

Catherine – Lisa Maule

This was a very confident, natural performance of the youngest sister.  Catherine was over-confident to hide her fear of being alone, demanding people’s attention and sympathy when it suited her.  She appeared to have a very shallow personality when she first appeared, chattering on about shopping, shoes and other inconsequential things.  Her dialogue never faltered and was delivered easily at quite a pace, and she seemed possessed of a naivety which younger siblings often have.  Her use of the stage and the speed with which she moved reinforced her energetic personality.

When the three sisters were trying on the mother’s clothes both Teresa and Mary appeared rather out of character, but Catherine did it in quite a natural way and then delivered the wonderful line about looking dead like Mum!

Vi – Cathy Lawrence

Difficult to build any real character when you only appear on stage intermittently and with no possibility to ‘build’ the part, but Cathy managed to do this very well.  So much of Vi’s perceived personality is gleaned from the dialogue of the daughters, but seems actually to be incorrect when we hear from Vi herself.  She looked very reminiscent of 35 years before due to her hairstyle and beautiful dress, and her thinking reflected those times.   She had an uneasy relationship with Mary to the extent that she may have felt a bit out of her depth when the latter became a doctor.  All the hang-ups that the girls have can easily be laid at the mother’s door because she admitted that from the time she became interested in men she never liked women much and she may even have found it difficult relating to the female members of her own family.   A well crafted portrayal.

Mike – Iain Howland

A very easy performance.  Good natural delivery with all the frustrations in check, and mindful of the circumstances in which he found himself.  This part is written with honesty and candour – Mike doesn’t want any more children and really doesn’t want to leave his wife, he wants the status quo to remain and this he managed to convey with good delivery and body language.  During Teresa’s drunken revelation he looked appalled and I wondered whether this played any part in his desire not to want to discuss leaving his wife until after the funeral – he certainly showed plenty of reticence.

Frank – Martin Howarth

Martin looked rather uncomfortable when her first came on the stage but soon relaxed into the character.  Like Teresa he was a person not living the life he really wanted, but putting up with it until given the opportunity to speak his mind, which he did quite vehemently.  Frank showed admirable patience even though he was patently exhausted, so when you sat on the bed in exasperation and through sheer exhaustion on a couple of occasions it was truly justified.  Frank countered Teresa’s accusation of lying beautifully with his own accusation of her, and I suspect became the father (of whom we have no knowledge) that Teresa missed.  He finally emerged from under Teresa’s thumb and became his own man.

‘The Memory of Water’ is one of those plays in which something different emerges each time you see it and having read through these notes would I want to see it again to delve more deeply into the characters and their motivations.  It  also makes one  reflect on the ‘family’ and how, despite all their differences, quarrels and hang-ups they all left for the funeral united, for a while,  in their loss and grief.

Thank you for the kind invitation to report on this latest production and may I wish you every success for 2010.