By Keith Russell
Originally set for a March season The Memory of Water only lasted two performances before level four was placed upon us, so in the best traditions of the theatre, director Rob Hickey closed the curtain, turned on the ghost lamp and left the stage in the good care of the spirits of past productions, while never losing sight of returning with the full season to Hawke's Bay audiences.
Fortunately, English playwright Shelagh Stephenson's award-winning comedy (later made into the film Before You Go) is back, making the most of its humorous portrayal of grief. Often a term used to describe how homeopathic remedies work, the premise taken by the playwright is how individual islands of memory can share a unified bond, in this case the importance of family.
On the surface we might be about to see two hours of sibling bickering, but fortunately the talented cast delivers a mixture of drama with some very sophisticated humour that will draw you into their lives. It is important to stay with the dialogue until the cast settles into a comfortable rhythm of back-and-forth, to really appreciate the constant flow of humour stemming from sibling rivalry and mother-daughter disappointments offset with moments of raw emotion.
The three sisters all display varying degrees of narcissism and, as one might expect, the most grounded is the middle child Mary, played by Natalie Sandbrook, who seems at first to be the calm centre around whom the others move. Her portrayal of strength makes the subsequent revelations of her fragility all the more moving.
Older sisters so often inherit the role of protector,r and Sandra Alsleben as Teresa walks a very fine line between blame and maternal concern. A familiar face in local productions, her consistently high standard of performance in the most diverse of roles does much to recommend this production. Bridie Thomson as Catherine - the youngest and "black sheep", who is written off by the family - brings high energy, well-sustained throughout the play. Her mercurial changes of mood could have been irritating but full marks must go to Thomson as she delivers an emotional punch when both the tragedy and comedy of her life play before us.
The most affecting scenes are when Mary is visited by the ghost of her dead mother Vi, played with confidence by Joanne Stevens, who becomes the glue that holds this story together. Her portrayal of Alzheimer's was sympathetic as well as convincing
While the female roles dominate the story, the two male characters - played by Gerard Cook and Rob Hickey - are not overshadowed and make impressive contributions to their characters. Who could not be impressed when one of the most famous lines in human existence is uttered: "I am not the father."
Set design by the director gives sanctuary to the madness portrayed, with intelligent lighting and sound by James Fulford and Hugh Bristow. Costumes by Tracy Stewart enhance he story, especially in a scene where the siblings are trying on their mother's clothes.
If I had to sum up this intelligently conceived theatrical experience, maybe it is Vi's assertion that she sees nothing she recognides in Mary's remembered version of her; and with that I am sure you will enjoy this moving, insightful comedy.
What: The Memory of Water
Where: Theatre HB
When: July 1 to July 11, 7.30pm Tickets at iTicket.co.nz