Once again The New Theatre has pulled off another impressive rollercoaster of emotion, this week in the form of Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water. I arrived with high expectations after the Theatre’s impressive start to the year with Mercury Fur and I definitely left feeling as though all the boxes had been ticked once again; engaging cast, professionally produced, remarkable script and a moving topic. This piece has evidently been caringly directed by Nick Hughes and produced by Lauren Grant and was definitely sensitively acted by all the cast; the three sisters in particular (Rosanna Stoker, Lucy Dollman and Amy Brough-Aikin).
The Memory of Water is a beautiful depiction of the relationship between three sisters only days after the passing of their mother who had long suffered with Alzheimer’s disease. Set entirely in their dead mother’s bedroom, it is both a comical and touching insight into how three diverse sisters deal with the trauma of losing their mother. Each sister has their own melt down at different points throughout the play, whether brought on by whiskey, being broken up with or discovering family secrets, they all manage to draw the audience into their despair.
Lucy Dollman’s portrayal of Teresa as the eldest and most responsible sister is arguably the most memorable spiral into distress as her intoxicated frenzy of accusations and outbursts about the problems in their family is both comic and unashamedly realistic. Rosanna Stoker’s delivery of cutting sarcasm throughout really adds to the harsh and sometimes comedic depiction of the daughters’ grief. It is the desire to portray such a fragile subject with remarkably raw emotion that is so memorable about this production, they haven’t shied away from the uncomfortable reality that a human’s response to a bereavement isn’t always just despondency; families have secrets, they don’t necessarily love each other and one day they will all die.
Although restricted by the space in the Performing Arts Studio, the set designer (James Bentley) and the technical team managed to pull off an understated yet detailed set which furthered the realism of the performance. As well as managing to create eerie reveries involving Mary (Stoker) and Vi (Lizzie Frainier) through simple lighting, the technical team managed to source a coffin, albeit questionable in size, and an impressive wardrobe of shockingly colourful dresses.
Hughes says in his director’s note that he has ‘a personal connection to the play’ and this is evident throughout; the intense and realistic portrayal of differing forms of grief can only have come from a deep understanding of and care for the subject of the play. This sensitivity towards such an emotional topic may also have been aided by the cast’s opportunity to meet and rehearse with an ex-Alzheimer’s carer. For me, the production was enhanced by the knowledge that proceeds from the performances are being donated to the Alzheimer’s society; there is clearly much compassion behind this thought -provoking piece of theatre.
See The Memory of Water at The Nottingham New Theatre (currently performing in the Performing Arts Studio) until Tuesday 13th November, including a matinee performance on Sunday 11th.