The Memory of Water

by Shelagh Stephenson; dir Senga Veasey
Rugby Theatre, Rugby
10 – 17 March 2012

 

Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play, about three sisters gathering at their childhood home on the eve of their mother’s funeral and bickering about whose memories of past events are more reliable, has proved a popular choice for amateurs (locally, the Priory, the Loft and the Criterion have already tackled it). It’s not hard to see why. With just six characters, one set and modern dress, it’s easy to stage; four of the roles are juicy parts for women, and it has a cracking script full of witty one-liners but with a strong emotional core. A sure-fire recipe for success, then.

Well, actually no, as this disappointing production proves. To successfully negotiate the constant rapid gear changes from witty wisecracks to tearful soul-searching and back again needs actors at the top of their game, and unfortunately for the most part the cast here are relatively inexperienced and simply not up to the job. Also, in a large (by amateur standards) theatre like Rugby’s where the actors are a long way from the audience, the ability to be heard at the back of the stalls is crucial. Some of the more reflective speeches by Kate Sawyer, as middle sister Mary, are totally inaudible; and elsewhere too many funny lines fall flat because the audience either can’t hear them or are reluctant to laugh for fear of drowning out the next bit.

Sawyer and Helen Ireland, as eldest sister Teresa, each have their moments (particularly the latter’s drunk scene in Act Two), and Elizabeth Young is (somewhat ironically) solid, warm and convincing as the spirit of the women’s mother, Vi, who appears occasionally to Mary to offer her perspective on the disputed past. But of the three siblings it is Soraya Moghadass who is most successful. Her performance as garrulous, needy, drug-addled youngest sister Catherine is spot-on. And I could hear every word.

The two men – Mary’s married boyfriend Mike, played by Malcolm Stewart, and Geraint Davies as Teresa’s husband Frank – are lacklustre and seem uncertain how to pitch their parts. Here, as elsewhere, there was little evidence of the strong direction that might have brought these two into sharper focus.

Rugby Theatre is capable of some very strong work indeed, as last month’s production of Stones in his Pockets demonstrated. By contrast, this was disappointingly mediocre fare.

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