The Memory of Water is a comedy written by English playwright and actress Shelagh Stephenson. The play was later adapted for the 2002 film,’Before You Go’ starring British Comedy actress Julie Walters.
Set in the North of England, the play focuses on three sisters who have gathered for the funeral of their mother Vi (Janet Waton Kruse). Theresa (Carissa McAllen) is the eldest child, who runs a health food business with her husband Frank (Darren Mort). Mary (Ana Mitsikas) is the middle child with a successful career in medicine, but a dysfunctional relationship with Mike, a married TV Doctor (Soren Jensen). Catherine (Karla Hillam) is the irresponsible, younger sister who desperately craves love and attention.
The notion of water memory was raised by French homeopath Jacques Benveniste, who tried to demonstrate that water can retain the memory of substances diluted in it. Interestingly the bickering sisters have a good dose of substances in the form of weed, whiskey and homeopathic remedies as they share their very different memories of the same events growing up. It’s a cathartic journey as the sisters’ intimate secrets and anxieties bubble to the surface over the course of 2 hours.
Having grown up in the North of England, I looked forward to watching the play which opened on Thursday night in the Loft at Chapel off Chapel. Part comedy, part tragedy, maybe even part ghost story, it is an emotional, witty and outright funny recollection of childhood. The spirit and memory of Vi is present in all her daughters in some way, whether they like it or not.
Everything takes place in real-time, in the intimate setting of Vi’s bedroom, and requires the actors to be captivating and interesting. Vi’s role as a mother, is brought to life as the girls rummage through her wardrobe. Her colourful vintage dresses give us insight into her character, which is quite often in contrast to the experience the girls recall from growing up. They didn’t have the perfect family life and Vi certainly wasn’t the perfect mother, having failed to tell them the important things about life and, in particular, sex.
The play is ultimately about the importance of family, relationships and acknowledging everyone’s struggles.
Richard Sarell’s direction has abandoned the principle of rehearsing lines and staging moves to perfection. He has allowed his actors the freedom to explore movement and speech spontaneously each night, resulting in a more exciting, truthful performance.
However, while it’s refreshing to see British theatre on Australian shores, my only criticism, which was shared by a couple of audience members during the interval, was the mastering of the British accent. Unfortunately with English accents and dialects, especially in Northern England, there can be noticeable changes within an area as little as 8 kilometres and this is tough for actors. Throughout the show, there were times the sisters accents wandered all over England, Ireland and Wales, which while distracting, unintentionally added to the comedy.
Despite this, the cast worked well together and provided a balance between the dramatic and laugh-out-loud moments. Carissa McAllen’s performance stands out as wonderfully realistic. She displays her emotions, frustrations and comic timing with precision and is the glue that holds the cast together.
Special mention to cellist, Grace Gilkerson from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, who provided incidental music throughout the show.
The Memory of Water has heart, soul and a good dose of comedy. It’s a fun evening and a show definitely worth seeing.
The Memory of Water plays at Chapel off Chapel from November 16 – 26.