The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson. Hampstead Theatre to 16 October 2021. 3***. William Russell.

This story of three sisters is an odd mixture of sit com hi jinks, serious stuff about the relationship between sisters and the falability of memory mixed with lots of symbolism and a ghost. The symbolism is that the Yorkshire house in which it is taking place is much too close to the sea shore for comfort and in danger of in time disappearing, as for the ghost it is of their mother and daughters have a peculiar love hate relationship with their mother as well as the strains between themselves. The set looks gorgeous – mirrored doors and glossy green wallpaper and is dominated by a vast double bed which belonged to the dead woman, but really it is just too glamorous as for the scene in which the women decide to clear out mother’s cupboards the cocktail dresses produced are bizarre to say the least and simply not what mother would have owned. It is frequently very funny but one does wonder why the married lover of one sister arrives there in a snow storm and comes in through the window because nobody has answered the door bell – it is broken – but when the husband of another sister appears he just walks in unannounced, not mention that the undertaker managed to bring the coffin with mother in it through all that allegedly terrible snow to spend a night in her onetime bedroom prior to the funeral. In other words some of the plotting seems a little disjointed. However there is nothing wrong with the performances. It was first performed at Hampstead 25 years ago, went to win an Olivier and the West End and America and is part of their Hampstead Original season. I kept feeling like I did when I saw the first production of Loot with Kenneth Williams which got the approach to the play completely wrong – indeed it is all very Ortonesque.That said Laura Rogers is a splendid Mary, a 39 year old neurologist, all twitches and allegedly pregnant, with a married lover Mike – Adam Rogers perfect as the sort of love rat who has a sick wife and no intention of leaving her. As the eldest sister Teresa, who runs a health food business, gets spectacularly drunk and throws a monumental tantrum, while Carolina Main Catherine, the youngest and unhappiest of the three, manages to make her funny while rather tragic at the same time. Meanwhile Lizzy McInnerny as mother Vi stalks through Mary’s dreams watching them in bewilderment. Maybe it is the production that has misjudged the play but something is not quite right somewhere. But great speeches, marvellous moments of bad taste – nobody quite gets as far as copulating on mother’s bed but it is a close run thing and the sisters do sprawl all over it as high as kites – make for an entertaining evening if not quite as profound as the programme notes would have us believe.

Lucy Black – Teresa.
Frank – Kulvinder Ghir.
Mike – Adam James.
Vi – Lizzy McInnerny.
Catherine – Carolina Main.
Mary – Laura Rogers.

Director – Alice Hamilton.
Designer – Anna Reid.
Lighting Designer – Joanna Town.
Composer & Sound Designer – Harry Blake.
Voice Coach – Stephen Kemble.

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