The Memory of Water

Apr 25 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆      Fluid

St Ninian’s Hall: Mon 24– Sat 29 Apr 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson

There are some very good performances of recognisable human dilemmas in Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ production of The Memory of Water at St Ninian’s.

Shelagh Stephenson’s dark comedy, about three sisters returning to their late mother’s house to prepare for her funeral, is an effective blend of humour and pathos. The central themes – that memory can be unreliable and that we tend to re-edit the narratives of our lives with ourselves at the centre, diminishing the roles and importance of others – are intriguing.

Suzie Marshall and Danny Farrimond. Pic: Stefan Heumann

Unfortunately, these points are hammered home repeatedly. Furthermore, a side effect of presenting such solipsistic characters is that they tend to be unsympathetic. There is a sense here, long before the end, that we are watching a series of self-obsessed people talking in circles, with a definite feeling of diminishing returns.

There are, however, plenty of funny lines and spiky remarks, in a North of England tradition reminiscent of Victoria Wood or some of the better comic exchanges in Coronation Street. There are also interesting speculations on science and pseudo-science, such as the dubious claim of homeopathy alluded to in the title.

All of these would work better in a much snappier work, rather than one whose second half in particular seems to go on far too long. Paradoxically, the fact that the cast are uniformly accomplished and convincing – every one of them secure in their character, their lines and their accent – works against the production a little. There is a definite whiff of soap opera about everything that would seem to require a much more heightened approach.

genuine human emotions

The relationship between the eldest sister Teresa (Suzie Marshall) and her husband Frank (Danny Farrimond), joint owners of a herbal supplement sales business, works best because there is a slightly ludicrous edge to it; they are the most compelling at portraying genuine human emotions, resentments and dependencies. Conversely, the exchanges between middle sister, doctor Mary (Kerry Trewern) and mother Vi (Edith Peers), are relatively low-key and underplayed – which is odd considering only one of the characters is still alive.

Kerry Trewern, Suzie Marshall and Kirsty Doull. Pic: Stefan Heumann

Richard Croasdale, as Mary’s married lover, television medic Mike, and Kirsty Doull, as attention-seeking youngest sister Catherine, seem to be hampered by the overt realism they bring to the roles. The three sisters’ bickering is thoroughly identifiable, but could be turned up a notch or two.

All of the performances are much better than adequate – Trewern in particular channels Mary’s emotions very impressively – but the characters’ jokes and observations seem to arise out of nowhere, where a more melodramatic (and faster) approach would have resulted in a more cohesive whole. Similarly, the ultra-realistic set is suitably claustrophobic but at times the action yearns to be liberated rather than penned in.

All of these objections are rooted in the original play rather than this production – the cast and director Colin McPherson do more than enough to bring out a great deal of comedy and human tragedy. Having done all the difficult bits so well, they only needed a few more sparks to make it even better. A less reverential approach might have brought even more life to the funeral.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval
St Ninian’s Hall, 40 Comely Bank, EH4 1AG
Monday 24 – Saturday 29 April 2015
Evenings at 7.30 pm, Matinee Saturday at 2.30 pm
For tickets (£12/concs £10) phone 07599 928440
Company website:
Edinburgh Theatre Arts on Facebook: edinburghtheatrearts.

To purchase the script from Amazon click on the image below.


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