Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is a successful rendition of a familiar formula. Three sisters come back to their Northern England home for their mother’s funeral and their vast differences come screaming to the fore; Teresa the eldest and martyr, Mary the intellectual over achiever and appointed ‘favourite’ and Catherine, the black sheep. Unlike its poor cousin It’s my Party and I’ll die If I want to, The Memory of Water illustrates a convincing two way street of the dramatic and comedic. The writing subtly brought together its plot elements (which in themselves aren’t groundbreaking - a possible pregnancy, an adulterous relationship) in a nicely tessellating way. In some instances it seamlessly segues from the serious to the outrageous while still leaving the tentacles of the serious lingering beneath the surface of the outrageous; particularly in the sequence where the sisters are trying on their mothers clothes over a rowdy joint.
The performances were credible across the board, not one could I fault as they were all utterly transfixing and some of the most convincing performances I’ve seen in a long time. One couldn’t have asked for more from any performer; each of the characters brought you into this clearly drawn world with little no effort. Much of the spats and squabbles and even just defiantly human traits were so clearly defined you couldn’t help but recognise traces of your own family or you, for that matter, in their palaver.
The set nicely brought together all the elements of a home but silently expressed all the ideas of family disunity and unity, with wall paper made from funeral programs and family photos. Large tears in the paper exposing the framework of the house beneath stood as symbols of the deterioration of their mother and of the relationships within the play.
All was handled with great competence and artistic flair on behalf of the technical aspects. Steven Francis’ composition and sound design underscored some of the really nice moments; particularly plays end, which was strengthened by Martin Kinnane’s lighting design and the touch of the snow that was falling inside and outside the home made the moment.
I can attempt to sell it you, but I’m afraid my own phraseology pales in comparison without being able to borrow one quote from Kim Hardwick’s directors notes "Part comedy, part tragedy but always entertaining." This is an exemplary piece of independent theatre to be produced in Sydney and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Whoosh Productions and Critical Stages present
The Memory of Water
By Shelagh Stephenson
Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company 19 Greenknowe Ave Potts Point
Dates: 18 - 22 September 2007
Times: Tuesday- Saturday at 8pm
Matinee: Saturday 22 September at 4pm
Tickets: Full $30, Conc $25
Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or 02 8356 9987