The Memory of Water

by Shelagh Stephenson

At the heart of this bittersweet, life affirming play, which won the Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy in 2000, lies the age-old tradition at family gatherings of recollecting stories, amid love, laughter, anger, and tears. This reunion occurs when three estranged sisters and their partners gather at the home of their recently deceased mother for her funeral and revisit the past in poignant and often hilarious manner. As the sisters relive the past, it becomes apparent that, despite synchronicities of time and place, each has very different memories of what actually happened.

The production contains limited smoking and some strong language

The sisters bicker constantly over conflicting memories about the same events in their childhoods: which sister threw up over the television and who was accidentally left behind at the beach, how one met her husband, what a father knew about a family scandal. As the three women recall their past after years of separation, many of their hidden lies and self-betrayals reach the surface. Through the emerging stories we see three very different characters – the martyr who always dealt with things and tries to organise the others into some semblance of order for the funeral; the ‘bookish’ one who has made a successful career for herself in medicine but a mess of her private life; and the youngest one – a drugged-out, self-absorbed shopaholic desperate for affection – from anyone. The mother also makes an appearance, giving the audience the opportunity to make up their own minds about how the daughters turned out to be so dissimilar and yet so alike.

“They f*** you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” 

Husbands and lovers add to the chaos, and the humour of even such a sad occasion becomes obvious, leading to a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining experience.