Little Waltham Drama Group
Wednesday 28th April 2004
The Memory of Water – Shelagh Stephenson
This is a play that I have heard of but not seen, so it was with keen interest that I arrived on Wednesday 28th. My welcome was excellent, as ever, the hall was buzzing with happiness and friendliness and we were able to take in the open set in our own time.
I do like the extra width on the apron that your stage affords as this allows the action to spread. The overall feel of this bedroom scene was one of faded, heavy elegance with the matching oak furniture commensurate with the mother whose this used to be. Dressed with floral curtaining and tranquil but nondescript pictures, the whole effect was cared for but had had little done to it for many years – in fact, a room to die in. The water marks on the wallpaper gave extra credence to this fact and linked cleverly with the theme of the title.
Having a composite set makes the stage manager’s job slightly easier and the smooth running of the evening indicates thoroughness. My only concern was that there was only one stage hand arranging the room in readiness for Act 2 Scene 3 and she was a trifle slow and repetitious in her moves. I loved the added bows of undertakes (stage crew dressed accordingly) bringing in the coffin. Here especially the extra width made having this on stage easier for the cast to move around the set. The few sound and light effects were immaculately timed, the green light for the unrealistic moments as Mary conversed with her mother gave an unearthly look but I did wonder if some quiet eerie sound effect would have added to these moments too. Having one of these scenes as a starting point for the whole play can be confusing for the audience and maybe needed extra. The fast, clinical cut from green to normal gave an excellent demarcation and alerted us to realise the change, but it was harsh and having the mechanism in the hall with us, a click could be heard. I especially liked the end as the curtains billowed gently into the empty room and left us with a memory; this was most evocative.
The acting throughout was of the highest order and the very fine reactions had been drawn out by equally fine direction. Added to this, the costumes had been chosen with care to illustrate the characters. Mary was always elegant and professional although I felt her nightwear was a trifle old fashioned. Teresa was practical but I felt that the apron she wore at the start was a stereotypical addition. She never used the duster it would seem so artistically positioned, we didn’t see this on stage, and her character despite all her common sense and drive didn’t need this visual aspect. Catherine was suitably young in her “student” garbs, all linked with a hippy look that matched her smoking habits and her funeral outfit was outrageous and excellent. The men wore the right amount of casual/business-like costumes.
The pace throughout was very good, the words very sure and all the characters exuded confidence. I was unsure about the start; after the dream sequence Mary needed to be more tired and anxious. It took far too long for the fact that she was sleeping in her mother’s room and bed (so soon after the bereavement) to permeate the proceedings. It is such an awesome idea, one that I would certainly not relish and that needed more pointing. Not having read the script (a fault that both I and your secretary should have not allowed), I am uncertain whether it is a problem with the script or direction. However, the bickering between Mary and Teresa soon established the sibling rivalry and frustrations with Teresa using every opportunity to labour her “caring” role and actions. Catherine’s first entrance broke this mood splendidly as she swamped the atmosphere with her chaos both in her thoughts and the numerous bags and paraphernalia that came with her. The very disjointed relationship between these three was superbly drawn out and was a highlight of the evening.
The very many changes of mood as the script moved through the various plights of these sisters were developed and enforced well. Catherine’s despair contrasted with Mary and Mike’s sensuality and the build up to trying the clothes on was excellent. The hilarity and ridicule of this scene came to a superb climax with the girls in bizarre positions on the bed as Frank arrived and froze the scene. The mother’s (Vi) arrival at this moment too was quite awesome especially as we could see the matching dresses that she and Mary sported and could see more how Mary embodied her mother.
This closeness was further highlighted in the second act as Mary’s impatience and antagonism towards her mother grew. Her bitterness towards her mother’s interference was particularly strong.
Catherine’s dismay and subsequent breakdown was also good. Susan’s voice tends to be rather too high pitched and a bit squeaky at times but she changed her pace and tone well as she broke into tears. The stillness effected by the other members of the cast at this moment made this another superbly staged climactic scene.
This whole second act progressed well with all the varied tensions as the action moved towards the funeral. Teresa slowly got more and more out of control as she downed the whiskey so that her lack of sympathy towards Mike and lack of sensitivity towards Mary’s pregnancy contrasted splendidly with her earlier practicality and Frank’s disgust and anger at her behaviour grew splendidly. His final weariness at the whole rigmarole and ensuing awkwardness came over splendidly too.
The tension developed between Mary and Mike over the phantom pregnancy and subsequent telling of the “real” one was also excellent. Mike’s confusion over what to do with the former news knowing his own complications (and cut!) was very effective as was his gentleness and strength when he learnt of the adoption. One pitied Mary that she couldn’t have this man all for herself as his love of her and willingness to support her, in his own time, was clear.
The quiet, calm moment prior to leaving the house for the funeral was another marked occasion. After all the outbursts and out pouring of emotion, the still, comfortable, loving relationship that the three sisters exuded for each other was very strong. Their outfits looked respectful but gave a clear message of their personalities and brought this very fine performance to an excellent conclusion.
This cast worked well as a team yet allowed their individuality to show.
Billie made Mary very realistic; here was a doctor who clearly cared for her patients and had thrown herself into her work after her emotional difficulties. Her relationship with her mother was very strong with Mary seeming the stronger until her final scene with her when her need to be cared for was very prevalent. Her relationship with Mike was both very close and loving yet had a distance commensurate with many who is having an affair. The relationships with her sisters were very realistic and bounced around according to the mood or text of the dialogue. This was a beautifully crafted and controlled performance.
Gill played the mother with a Northern accent which rang true although I was a little curious as to why especially as none of the girls shoed any signs of an accent. Her stillness and smooth moves gave her an eeriness that was right and the growing relationship with Mary was effective.
Karen was splendidly practical, embittered by the role her sisters had forced her to take and the least secure by the end. Her irritations were very credible and she coped with the growing drunkenness well. Her relationship with Frank was good, she ordered him around as though controlling him although it was evident that he was in charge and she lacked security.
Susan as Catherine, the youngest and confused sister looked very good. She needs to vary the pitch of her dialogue and consider using pauses. I know that as a young, irrational character her language rhythms would be more erratic but she gabbled a little at times. Also her dialogue on the phone didn’t allow for listening to the speaker on the other end. However, her changes of mood and varying relationships with her sisters in particular were very realistic and she made this character highly credible.
Mike, who played Mike, was excellent. His first, unusual, entrance was impressive, he certainly looked frozen and his feelings towards Mary were very clear. His change in feelings were effective as the circumstances around him changed and there was an excellent moment of hopelessness shown as Teresa and Frank attacked him verbally from either side of him and he stood meekly taking it all in. I wanted to shake him when he wouldn’t give Mary a straight answer but the loyalty of this character to caring for his sick wife was very strong and true.
Frank was the most formal of the cast, his attire showed this and he held himself stiffly. Peter gave Frank an arrogance that suited the role. He loved but tolerated Teresa, got irritated and angry with her but kept his distance. He commented on and found amusement with both himself and the bizarre emotions around him but was in perfect control at all times. This was an interesting and forthright performance that contrasted well with all the others.
A very interesting and thought provoking evening’s entertainment.