The Memory of Water

Reviewer's Rating

I have one sister, a half-sister, who I admire more than anything. Yes we have our differences, one of us loves printed fabric and perfume, whilst the other rarely uses a hair dryer and prefers oversized jumpers. I won’t tell you which I am as that spoils the fun. There’s also 10 years between us, pushing a generation, limiting our shared music tastes, and emphasising the pop-culture divide. One thing is for sure though, I absolutely adore her. And I say with confidence that anyone with a sister will absolutely adore The Memory of Water.

Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is a comedy that makes you laugh out of relatability, and cry for the same reasons. It follows the story of three sisters, preparing for their mother’s funeral and reliving old memories in their childhood house. Laced with bickering that escalates to arguments, with laughter, compassion and hatred – The Memory of Water unapologetically explores what it means to be a sister and, for the men in the audience, also what it means to marry into such a family (hint: dramatic). What is most palpable about their relationships is their honesty. Honesty is a rare gift and it is most easily found, but nevertheless hardest to digest, amongst a family that truly cares.

I would like to credit the script of this play as one of the most captivating pieces of drama I have watched for a long time.  It takes just 30 seconds for each personality to be established, for rapports to be built and for entire character histories to be communicated to the audience. It is simple and first-class. A good script is however useless without the talent to bring it to life. Laura Rogers, Lucy Black and Carolina Main are captivating in their own unique way, representing the uniqueness of each sister, down to the minute details of shared mannerism as is so often the case within families. Lizzy McInnerny, as the mother, also deserves special mention for her haunting monologue about the experience of living with dementia. Haunting is in fact the underlying theme; she is reminiscent of a past era and a memory of family that is deeply affecting to each sister.

The scenery and costumes are similarly exquisite. The entire play is locked into one scene – the dead mother’s bedroom. Within those walls there are held hundreds of memories. It communicates age, oozes class and perfectly ties the acting to the memory of the woman now passed. Another relic of the mother are the outfits, old and modern alike. In a joyful scene the sisters rifle through their mother’s wardrobe, trying on gowns that would have been incredibly fashionable a few decades prior.

Fraught with heartache, hilarity and the realities of imperfection, The Memory of Water is a dark yet vibrant comedy. Congratulations to the entire team on their nothing short of triumphant return to Hampstead Theatre.