The Memory of Water – Birkenhead Little Theatre

Can you remember things that didn’t happen? What about remembering other people’s memories as if they were your own?

The Memory of Water, written by British playwright Shelagh Stephenson, is directed by Brian Dickson and performed by the Carlton Players of Birkenhead’s Little Theatre. The play explores the complex relationships between three sisters who come together for their mother’s funeral and must confront their pasts, their feelings and the memories they share.

Does everyone experience the past the same way?

The relationship between the three leading sisters is fractious. Each is striving to make sense of their own identity and grief and each deal with stress and emotion in different ways – the youngest, Catherine (Zoe Howe) has a taste for taking the edge off reality with drugs; Mary (Clare McGrath), the middle sister, displays acerbic humour and deeper, backward-looking reflections; while Teresa, the eldest sister, appears pragmatic and presents a facade of coping despite internally struggling.

The dialogue is pacy. Timing is imperative for scripts that have a high number of verbal exchanges, and this was a little out of sync within the first half. It was clear some of the cast were nervous and this had an impact in the delivery of lines. By the second half, the nerves had dissipated and the relationships between the characters was stronger and engaging.

The play’s structure incorporates a series of overlapping and fragmented memories, which create a sense of narrative. Director Brian Dickson presented it more as a tragedy than a comedy. This worked well. The comedic lines are still present and there is humour to lift the dialogue at the points it was needed whilst also allowing more space for the characterisation to develop and layers to be revealed.

The script had also been adapted to include local references, engaging the audience and personalising the performance.

The staging is well-thought through. Stage manager Marc Smith has created one set that remains present on stage and props are changed over when necessary, so most of the play takes place within the room that the mother has died in. With a full-size double door built in to the background, there is a sense of depth within scenes and the feeling of the weather is emphasised.

Overall, the play examines individual struggles with identity, love, and loss, and how these struggles have been shaped by the sisters’ relationships with each other and with their mother. The performance is a thoughtful one.

For future productions and performances, view The Carlton Players website https://www.carltonlittletheatre.co.uk/

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 14th March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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