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Stage Dragon: The Memory of Water – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 22 May, 2019
Updated on: 22 May, 2019

On the edge: youngest sister Catherine (Jasmine Jones) © Nottingham Playhouse

By Alice Fowler

The Memory of Water, on show at the Yvonne Arnaud this week, begins with Mary, the eldest of three sisters, sleeping in her recently deceased mother’s bed. Her mother, obdurate in death as she seems to have been in life, stalks Mary’s dreams, sneering at her medical books and holding the family secrets close.

All of us, at some point in our lives, will experience the tense few days after a parent’s death, when whisky is swigged and memories of the past dredged up and disputed.

Three sisters, three versions of the past © Nottingham Playhouse

Writer Shelagh Stephenson finds much comedy as the sisters, all very different, debate what really happened in their childhood. Mary (Beth Cordingly) is a doctor, and seems on the surface the most successful of the three. Yet at 39, she is in a long-term affair with a married man, while longing for a child.

Taking to the bottle: Teresa (Juliet Cowan) and her husband (Stewart Wright) © Nottingham Playhouse

Teresa (Juliet Cowan) is the organiser of the family, who has helped their mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, while her sisters have been away. A vegetarian, with a business selling health supplements, she recites the recipe for beef carbonnade to calm her nerves.

Most vulnerable is the youngest sister, Catherine (Jasmine Jones): highly strung, pot-smoking and unlucky in love, whose unhappiness is as striking as her purple platform shoes.

Small comfort: Mary (Beth Cordingly) and her married lover (Nicholas Bailey) © Nottingham Playhouse

What has made the sisters as they are? The answer, of course, lies in the past. As snow falls, Mary’s lover (Nicholas Bailey) and Teresa’s husband (Stewart Wright) stumble in, with secrets of their own. Long-held truths are revealed as fake. Meanwhile her mother Vi (Katy Stephens) looms large in Mary’s dreams, speaking movingly on how it feels, as a parent, when your sense of self unravels and your children no longer listen.

Katy Stephens as mother Vi, guardian of the family’s secrets © Nottingham Playhouse

On such dark themes, this Nottingham Playhouse production shines the dazzling light of humour. No one speaks when they could shout, and a deliberately fuzzy soundtrack suggests the unreliability of memory. The snow shaker on their mother’s dressing table becomes a metaphor for the huge shake-up in the sisters’ lives. When the last flakes settle, we can be certain, nothing will be the same again.

The Memory of Water runs at the Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday, May 25. Box office 01483 440000, www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

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