Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Memory of Water, by Shelagh Stephenson, MTC, may 26, 2004

Memory of Water, by Shelagh Stephenson 
Melbourne Theatre Company

Space 28, Victorian College of the Arts, May 26 to June 10, 2004

Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Grief triggers unpredictable, often inappropriate reactions. Whatever the particular reaction - laughter, shouting, weeping, silence - it is extreme.

The three sisters in Shelagh Stephenson's play, Memory of Water, gather around their mother's coffin telling stories about the deceased. Their memories may be garbled or crystal clear but, as Stephenson suggests, memories are unreliable. Each family member recalls her childhood and mother through her own prismatic memory.

Her play is painful and hilarious. Stephenson's black humour is carefully poised against poignant and agonising responses to death.

The production, directed by Julian Meyrick, has an icy winter design by Dale Ferguson and evocative lighting by Efterpi Soporos. Director, Julian Meyrick, keeps the pace rapid but allows the moving moments their space.

Mary, (Nicki Wendt Teresa (Louise Siverson) and Catherine (Sibylla Budd) arrive in their mother's house to prepare for her funeral the following day. Stephenson portrays their dysfunctional relationships in what might outwardly be a normal family.

Teresa, the family bossy boots, takes over funeral arrangements, forces others to take her homeopathic remedies and resorts to uncharacteristic drunkenness when she cannot cope. Mary, a neurologist, seems to be the most stable of the sisters. However, we discover she has a married lover, (Paul English) an obsession with her amnesiac patient and a touching secret.

The wild card in this family is the neurotic and annoying youngest sister, Catherine. She is loud, demanding, selfish, needy, a relentless love addict and dope smoker. Their old patterns of behaviour provide a perfect base for Stephenson's wicked humour.

Nicki Wendt plays Mary with subtle humour and a delicate sense of her inner landscape. As Teresa, Louise Siverson captures her vulnerability, overbearing nature and hidden wildness. Catherine is perhaps the most difficult role. Budd makes her uncontrollable nature credible but could allow some shift in her emotional level.

As their dead mother, Violet, Debra Lawrance  is cheeky and provides another view of the family's dysfunction. Nicholas Bell is engaging as Teresa's downtrodden husband and Paul English plays Mary's lover with a delightfully bemused air.

The play is not an analysis of grief but a snapshot of one family as it rides the roller coaster of this life changing experience.

LOOK FOR: The outrageous gallows humour around the coffin

By Kate Herbert

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