Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier Award-winning play has been revived at the Hampstead Theatre in a production directed by Alice Hamilton.
The Hampstead Theatre is continuing its season of reviving plays which originated at their theatre; The Memory or Water debuted there in 1996 and went on to win the Olivier Award for best new comedy. We should stress that it’s a dark comedy, as opposed to lighthearted fun – it follows the story of three bickering sisters and the events that transpire in the days following the death of their mother.
Over the course of the evening we meet eldest daughter Teresa (Lucy Black), the family martyr who makes everyone very aware of all the good deeds she’s been doing and the work she’s put into the funeral arrangements; middle child Mary (Laura Rogers), a successful doctor who is rather superior to her two siblings; and the youngest of the three, Catherine (Carolina Main), who can at best be described as an impulsive and chaotic hot mess. We took a real shine to her though, and empathised with her situation the most.
Some plays retain a certain timeless quality to them, always feeling relevant and important; whereas others are very much of their time. The Memory of Water falls into the latter category – it debuted in 1996 and really feels like a 1990s throwback. The cultural references, the costumes and the set, the way the characters interact with each other – it looks and feels a bit dated, as does some of the humour. There are certainly still some funny lines, but a handful of the jokes feel a little unpleasant and there are exchanges in the dialogue which are pretty uncomfortable to watch through a 2021 lens.
We still enjoyed our evening with The Memory of Water. There are some strong acting performances here, and some interesting ideas are considered. It just doesn’t feel like it’s aged all that well, especially the humour – like the decor in the mother’s bedroom, it could do with a bit of a refresh.
GAY TIMES gives The Memory of Water – 3/5
More information can be found here.