Photo by Marc Brenner

Critic's Circle Review The Memory of Water

The Memory Of Water: A comedic yet deep insight into human behaviour at times of grief

It took me a while to wrap my head around this play. This is a story made entirely through sharing the memories of three sisters at a time where they are at their most emotionally fragile. Having met up at their deceased mother’s house before her funeral, the sisters share their memories and discover how different their recollections of events are. As strange as this may sound given the setting, the play genuinely has some fantastic moments of comedy. However the core of the play explores the hidden traumas of the main characters and the resentment they held for each other, which was both interesting and engaging.

Firstly, let’s take a deeper dive into the comedic aspect of the play, I feel like this was handled really well as the humour derives from the chemistry between the sisters and at every point of the play it makes you question: do they really hate each other? An aspect of the humour that I most enjoyed was the antics of the youngest sister Catherine (played by Jasmine Jones) whose mannerisms often make the play hilarious despite the heavy atmosphere created by their mother’s recent death. Convinced that her mother always hated her and the feeling that she has always been ignored and neglected by her sisters, you can easily have sympathy for her character.

One thing I absolutely loved about the play was the sequences where the middle daughter, Mary, was talking to her mother within her own head. I feel those sequences were the most powerful moments in the play for me as she discovers that she did love her mother despite being blinded by the bitterness and mistrust she had for her. The exploration of the mother’s character entirely through the perspective of her daughters was best part of the play for me and I believe it was handled brilliantly.

A minor gripe I had with the play was a few moments during the first half where I missed a line or two of dialogue because I couldn’t hear it. This problem went away in the second half however given how fantastic I thought the writing was it’s a shame to have missed some of it.

This play walks the tightrope of balancing comedy and tragedy extremely successfully. The way the stories of the characters unravel is superbly handled; and I would strongly recommend the play to anybody who has any interest in the exploration of some incredibly distinctive characters in a stressful and turbulent time. If a comedic play which explores human behaviour at times of grief appeals to you, I am confident that you will enjoy this play.

By Alex Longhurst

This was a stunning piece full of emotion and drama. The piece opened with a scene of one of Mary’s dreams of her mother. As the curtain was then drawn back it revealed the set. It was a fairly simple set with a purple floral double bed a messy dressing table and a large wooden wardrobe.
The play unfolds as the three sisters (Mary, Teresa and Catherine) are bickering over their mother’s death and who remembered what about their childhood. Teresa just wanted to get everything sorted and tidied up after the death. Mary wants some sleep and to read up about her latest patient’s condition and Catherine is just trying to get over it with a bit of retail therapy.
Personally, I found the first act quite slow as there was a lot of arguing: “you do this” “you do that” “I remember this” “well I remember that but differently”. To make it slightly quicker and more exciting they could maybe add some bigger arguments into the first act. The second act I found was generally quicker with more going on which I liked. I felt as if through the second act you could see the characters having more intent in their actions and beliefs. I also began to feel more and more sorry for Catherine (the youngest) who was clearly struggling but her older sisters didn’t seem to take any notice of this.
I liked that through Mary’s dreams we got a view of a real mother-daughter relationship which is not often portrayed in theatres. It was clear that the girls meant a lot to her. At some point you weren’t sure what to think of her as she said that she gave so much up for them they didn’t feel like they actually got that. I also liked the cool toned lights used throughout which gradually got pinker as the show went on. I loved that they reflected on the shiny, black, triangular celling.

My favourite character throughout the show was definitely Catherine (played by Jasmine Jones). She did a wonderful job of portraying both the chaos and fragility of the role. The men in this piece were also really strong actors. I particularly felt sorry for Frank as he got the tail end of Teresa’s drunkenness.
Overall I think I was a good play which was well thought out.

By Naomi Thomas

I love

Turns out she’s pregnant
Oh God, she clearly is mine isn’t she?
I love my girls, I really do
But there’s something missing

Their father was a bloody waste of time
And imagine if he were here now
I think he would have killed me
And no there’s no sarcasm in my voice,
He was a tender, loving husband though,
That was sarcastic however

I always feared
One of my girls
Would turn out
Like him.
But I escaped that
and God instead
made em all bloody like me
Reckless, unbothered and bitter
What a lovely combination.

I am scared for what’s to come
Cause the girls aren’t strong enough
I’m not, and they’re certainly not
I always ran away from the problem
And actually my girls face it
But they face it coldly
Like they’re walking on ice

I love dancing me,
I was always that woman
On the dancefloor
I guess I loved the attention
But where has that brought me
My memories are frozen
I guess
I filter out the crap and I’m left with
The dancing
And the men
And my girls

What else can I possibly need?

I’ve always loved what I can’t see
More than what’s bloody in front of me

For example,
Though not here to touch but I can
Sense him.
But yet I’m
That evil, mad cow
Who made him go away

I often go to the water’s edge
And see him
I know he’s there with me
My blood in the water
He’s a happy young chap
I can tell you that
But he’s filtering away his life
And he don’t even know it

The memories he won’t have
But surely better kept unheard of?

I question this every night

You’ll often find me at the beach
With the water
And therefore,
With him

I can remember that day as clear as anything
The day he went away
Yet the girls think I’m bloody going stupid
They say here’s holes in my brain but
It’s just an act I guess
I don’t want to make them re-live it
I did what was best
She was 14
They don’t know this,
But I love him and I’ve always looked after him

Always been there
I saw him just before,
The fall
He looked as fit as a fiddle you
Can tell he’s my flesh
Yet he was missing something
He didn’t know
But I knew
And that distant made my memories
Even more distorted,
And the distant made him
Jump the edge

It’s a hard game,
Keeping a straight face,
Especially when it’s my fault

Protecting those you love
But they call it evil
What’s it all for?

What’s in my head
Stays in my head
Even if I do drive myself insane

I see him falling every night
But yet I see Mary crying
Every night
In my head, they’ve
Always been connected
Though the distance is distorted between them

It’s me who’s kept them together
For better or for worse

I love my girls
But I fear they aren’t strong enough
Strong enough for the truth
About who I am
Who I’ve been
And who they truly want to be
I wish them all the luck

Memories may fade but
Feelings never do
And I love you,
More than you’ll ever know

By Betsey Bircumshaw

Memory of Water-A Bad American Sitcom

On Tuesday 7th May 2019, I saw ‘The Memory of Water’ at the Nottingham Playhouse directed by Adele Thomas. The production follows the lives of three sisters who have come home for their mother’s funeral. The play uses a naturalistic style with a revolving stage incorporated into the set.
The first thing I can say about the show, is I felt as if I was watching a bad American sitcom rather than a production produced by a professional theatre. Whether it was the script or the director, I found the play long and bland. I thought the actors were great and portrayed their roles well yet-at points in the play-I found my view blocked by a prop, or even an actor blocking other actors and having their back facing the audience, which I thought was highly unprofessional.

As the play progressed, I found myself a bit more engrossed by the action occurring on stage. I found I was most entranced by Beth Cordingly playing ‘Mary’, I thought that the way she used her facial expressions really brought the character to life and took us on a roller-coaster of emotions. Cordingly helped create sympathy for her character through her use of emotion from the beginning of the play.

Throughout my life, I have seen multiple Playhouse plays and not once have I seen so bland a set. Was it suitable to the play? Yes. Was it captivating? No.
From where I was positioned, as an audience member, I quite often found my view was obstructed by an item of the set, which I found was very impractical for the play with there always being action. Though the revolving stage was an intriguing idea, I think that it ruined the production. Usually, I come back from the theatre thinking about how clever a set is yet, this time it was quite the opposite and I found myself very disappointed.
Personally, I would not recommend this play to anyone as I did not enjoy the production. I think that this was a good try at creating a funny performance but this time it has not worked. I hope these standards will be better next time and would like to congratulate the five actors on trying to bring the play to life.

By Hannah Spencer

“Can You Feel Nostalgia for Something That Never Really Happened?”

There’s an undoubtedly thin line between love and hate, life and death, fact and fiction, reality and dream. It is this precarious tightrope upon which we find ourselves struggling to balance, as the conflict, contradictions, and coping mechanisms of 3 sisters are disjointedly thrown together on the eve of their mother’s funeral, with comedic and tragic results.

Despite their shared childhoods, it quickly becomes apparent that that is perhaps all they have common, with the sisters having each grown up into distinctively different women: Teresa, the oldest, a health business owner who equally resents and craves the control and responsibility she attracts, Mary, the staid middle child, a doctor for whom failure was never an option, and Catherine, the youngest, an egocentric diva whose careless and brash behaviour is ineffectual in disguising her true, sensitive nature. Not only that, but it soon emerges that even the memories they hold most dear don’t align, with each offering up contesting recollections of ostensibly indisputable moments.

This play by Shelagh Stephenson transpires from within the deceased mother’s bedroom, the dynamics of the sibling relationships acting as the ironically stable backbone to the story’s development. From a somewhat orderly introductory scene between Juliet Cowan and Beth Cordingly, correspondingly playing Teresa and Mary, the beginnings of chaos and hysteria quickly rears its ugly but entertaining head upon the whirlwind arrival of Catherine, played by Jasmine Jones. Amongst the alcohol, arguments, and anguish that ensue, they hastily pull back their characters’ exterior layers to reveal the vulnerabilities and complexities that lie beneath. It was a delight to observe each actress deftly manoeuvre the intricate cocktail of grief, uncertainty, and love that life brings, whilst never straying too far from the engaging personalities to whom we were initially introduced. A special mention must go to Jasmine Jones for an impeccably loud-as-life performance and for her perfectly subtle and capricious lapses between shows of flamboyance and genuine despair.

Helping to complete this small, six-person cast are Stewart Wright and Nicholas Bailey, correspondingly playing Frank, Teresa’s blunt husband, and Mike, Mary’s married boyfriend. Through little fault of the actors, I struggled to be convinced by either of their romantic relationships, instead finding myself overly self-aware of the plot and comedic points each of their characters were intended to draw on. Although they may have been semi-successful in the latter aspect, the stagnant chemistry ultimately detracted from a play that has its foundations firmly built on human connection.

In contrast, Katy Stephens, playing the conjured up, middle-aged memory of the sisters’ mother, conversing solely with Mary through dream-like interactions, brought some substance to the stage, casting a light on the importance of individual perception on memories. “I was proud of you. You were ashamed of me.” How many of us can say our parents have no doubt, at some point, felt the same? As a teenager myself, those words cut through me and acted as a stark reminder of the casual vilification we have perhaps all unintentionally done to our parents, seeking pride from those closest to us whilst simultaneously immersing ourselves in shame. Despite the emotive potential of increasingly powerful exchanges between Mary and her mother, the enigmatic, irreproachable and misanthropic nature of both characters wholly prevented the words from landing true as I so dearly longed.

Throughout ‘The Memory of Water’, certain overarching themes float to the surface – memories, loss, family bonds, and differences in perception. Dripping through the piece, they lend food for thought and pool together as the play flows to the end of its stream. Although I admit the denouement felt somewhat insincere and misplaced, after just over 2 hours of being regaled by family bickering, the visual aspect was compelling, providing me with a reflective, frozen moment, one that will stay with me until the eventual thawing of the ice of my own memories.

By Mel Malkin

Monologue for Mary

I met him 5 years ago at a medical lecture at the hospital where I was working on a placement. He was onstage speaking about a breakthrough in neurological pathways and an undiscovered link to memory and I was trying valiantly to comprehend him whilst sneaking slices of the chocolate Malteser cake that had been provided by the WI for refreshments. That sums up our relationship really; him always one step ahead with children, marriage, a televised career and me, trailing behind desperately, stealing moments with him away from his busy family life. He was gorgeous even from a distance, and he had that sort of natural charisma that lit up the stage; by the end I was pretty sure the whole room would have given themselves over for him to experiment on their brains, just to be closer to him.

Afterwards he came over and introduced himself, taking my hand in his own and shaking it, “Hello,” he had said grinning, “I’m Mike, short for Michael. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I had smiled slightly, looking down hesitantly at our hands which were still clasped together and they just looked so right intertwined like that. It was then that I noticed the wedding ring and my heart sank down to the pits of my stomach and buried itself there.

At some point in the gormless silence that ensued, I remembered that I should probably introduce myself too, “I’m Mary, short for … well, Mary.” And he’d laughed. That warm throaty kind of laugh that thrills you with joy and instantly puts you at ease. If I had to pinpoint it, to Catherine or Teresa, I would say that that moment was where it began. Even though I knew it was so despicably wrong, it was, undeniably, the trigger.

And then suddenly he’d leaned, his face inches away and I could feel his breath on my nose, tangibly close, and for a second I thought he was going to kiss me and I felt the butterflies go berserk in my stomach. But instead he put his lips to my ear and softly whispered, “I thought it might interest you to know, Miss Mary, that you have chocolate cake stained around your mouth…”

By Francesca Lee

The Wardrobe

Open. Closed. Open. Closed. The cycle goes on and on; my eyes open for a split second and then they’re shut for me, I have no power at all. I am the observer, the one who sits silently but hears the loud noises of society. I am a wardrobe. Filled not only with clothes but with secrets, many of which could belong to you. I am a wardrobe, a brown oak wardrobe, a wardrobe almost empty – yet full.
Alive. Dead. Alive. Dead. Once she opened me for the last time. Once she took out her emerald green dress for the very last time. I didn’t know it, I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d see her stare beguilingly into her mirror as though she had been transformed, just like mothers stare at new-borns, as though their lives have only just started, as though there is a miracle between bare skin.

Up. Down. Up. Down. I watched Mary toss and turn in her mother’s cold, skin-cell filled bed. I watched silently, through the noises of her cries and the bare hurt I could sense through her yawns. I felt in my bones she was hurting the same things I felt when her mother did. My hinges felt stiff and rusty. If only the memories weren’t trapped within me.
In. Out. In. Out. Teresa entered, lost things, shouted a bit, left and then did it all again. Crying; crying, Catherine entered the scene. All three musketeers back together. United – but for a funeral… surely things were about to unravel and me, yes me, I would be the only one filled with the truth; their silent witness.
Boys. Girls. Boys. Girls. What makes us so different? Nothing at all, but in this play there is a difference. I see men stroll into these women’s lives. I see them lie; I see the cries of water; the water memories live within. The males present themselves as superior, the ones with the power, and people with the ability to walk all over lives. But however, they are incapable of pure love and in a particular man’s place, they are incapable of children.
End. Goodbye. End. Goodbye. I watch as a funeral is planned and the last dress is taken from me – stolen. I watch as a coffin is taken from the room. Her coffin. The last time I’ll ever see her.

I think this is one of the greatest plays I’ve ever watched. It portrays the highs and lows of childhood and of grief. It showed to me how the bond between sisters is forever and for me as a sister, I found this highly relatable and enjoyable to watch.

By Grace Astbury-Crimes

First performed in 1996, the comedy by Shelagh Stephenson The Memory of Water is a tale told of three bickering sisters, of their recounts of past memories, secrets, love and heartbreak. Based around their mother’s death, the three opposing characters reunite for her funeral bringing with them their differences and commons, creating the comedy which is “the memory of water”.

The three sisters (in ascending order), Catherine, Mary and Teresa, all have their issues.

Catherine – my personal favourite – is a young, lively (although at times very down), neon pink legged women obsessed with the elusive Xavier and her lack of inclusion from her sisters. Her specialty of drama, at times, reaches points beyond control and she is often found falling, crying and wailing – having a hissy fit as my mother would call it – on the ground, leaving the audience (me included) in hysterics. As the youngest sister she is often seen as inferior to her sisters – according to her, her mother too – as her mother’s lack of love for her has left Catherine in tatters, compounded from big chunky shoes, insecurity and drugs.

Mary the doctor, the professional, borderline alcoholic, middle child is the perfect representation of a woman on the verge (of what we don’t know). She is very secretive, using her brutal sarcasm as a metaphorical shield to protect her from her big, and younger, sister’s constant questioning. Playing the other woman in a questionable affair, Mary is a character who in my opinion is rather hypocritical; being a doctor yet smoking more than I could count and preaching to her younger sister about how her boyfriend is not worth it, yet having an affair with a sick woman’s husband. All questionable acts. However, there is no debate that she was pushed to this point by her green dress cladded mother, who although dead, makes quite a few guest appearances.

Teresa (who I have now uncovered is played by the same actress who plays Hank Zipzer’s mum) is the oldest of the bunch. A health freak, obsessed with the au naturel goodness of plants and herbs, she is a stark contrast to her two younger siblings. Wearing black and nagging is Teresa’s greatest pleasure in life and her undoubtably humorous nature is what gives her character that edge of interest. She’s stressed and dressed for the funeral and her infuriation at her sister’s lack of action creates the perfect atmosphere of conflict throughout “the memory of water”.

Now I hear you shout, what about the water? Water is in the play, not in the sense of a water slide or a sprinkler/fountain or any such obvious methods but in the set and the scientific words I can’t fathom of middle child Mary. The set is very clever and interesting and not one to be spoilt.

To summarise, this play is one worth watching, it’s not only funny but serious within seconds and that is something that is extremely hard to craft so, for that I take my hat off to you, Shelagh Stephenson. A predominantly female cast is something empowering to see and the relationships between sisters is also always an interesting thing to observe (especially when the sisters are so completely mad). The only thing I’d recommend is for those who have asthma there is a lot of smoke, so bring your inhaler.

By Annabella Leivers