Nottingham Playhouse’s current production of Shelagh Stephenson’ s play The Memory of Water is, reflective, highly relatable, and deeply resonant. It is flooded with humour and delivers devastating tidal waves of pathos.
Adele Thomas directs with great style and Laura Hopkins’ set design is a brilliant poetic concoction of a womb like sanctuary with the dead mother’s bed, wardrobe and dressing table acting as islands of safety and recollection afloat on a watery floor and below the mirrored ceiling. The idea of entrances and exits through flowing material as opposed to a solid door and solid set of bedroom walls allows for free movement and releases the imagination from the confines of reality to explore those of memory and differing interpretations of sibling conflict and recollection.
The acting standards in this production are second to none. The virtually consistent stream of humour stemming from sibling rivalry, mother-daughter disappointments and misunderstandings is offset with moments of raw emotion. It is wonderfully emotional and powerful stuff that has its audience sympathising with sisters Mary (Beth Cordiningly), Teresa (Juliet Cowan), and Catherine (Jasmine Jones).
The dead mother Vi (Katy Stephens) is played with great authority by Stephens. The impression given of Vi’s personality is of her loving her daughters but also highly critical of how she is being variably interpreted by them. But then, she is not without her faults either.
It is said by American writer Julia Elliot that ‘one of the most profound sensations for a woman is when she, or her sister, becomes a mother. With the birth of part of the future come echoes from the past.’
No-one in this superbly conceived and written play, including the two male characters Mike (Nicholas Bailey) and Frank (Stewart Wright), escape Shelagh Stephenson’s deep human insight and wit. The degrees of feminine and masculine complexity are what make The Memory of Water so compelling and so moving an experience. Ultimately it is super relatable and often profound in relating the story of sisters who are just too alike to get on and have to find a common path to get through the post funeral and funeral period.
Writer Julia Elliot also wrote ‘The likeness between the generations can take you unawares at all stages of your life – in looks, in character and even ailments. Where you once saw an image of your own young mother in the mirror of your glamorous youth, you later find her grey hairs on your own head and her rheumatism in your joints. It’s all part of an inheritance you never shake off. Oscar Wilde cynically declared that “all women become like their mothers” but whether that is a tragedy or not is something that we each have to decide for ourselves.’
The Memory of Water is another superb choice for this season at Nottingham Playhouse and this reviewer cannot recommend its intelligent writing and fascinating depiction high enough.
The Memory of Water runs at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 18th May.
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