Three Sisters with a difference in how they remember
“She’s have sent us up K2 in sling backs carrying tiny handbags.”
Three sisters gather at their dead mother’s house before her funeral. Every act takes place in their mother’s large pale turquoise and green hued bedroom with its floral wallpaper, floral pictures and fitted wardrobes with mirror panels.
The eldest, Teresa (Lucy Black), ahead of her time for 1996, is a vegetarian and pro all things organic. She runs a business with her second husband Frank (Henry Everett). The middle child is Mary (Laura Rogers) a doctor who is there with her married boyfriend, also a doctor, Mike (Adam James). Youngest is Catherine (Carolina Main) more unconventional than the others, single and reckless, if not a tad unstable, “Broke doesn’t mean you can’t buy things!” she says unwrapping a pair of excessive platform boots with enormous heels. She is waiting for a phone call from Javier, who is also expected at the funeral.
Mary and Mike have their own personal situation to sort out. He is married with three children and his wife has ME. Mary’s academic success and career is the apex of her mother Vi’s ambition for her but she has not been allowed to develop in other ways.
Their mother Vi (Lizzy McInnerny) will appear infrequently, her hair in a blonde beehive, wearing a green sateen evening dress and holding a cigarette. The mother had Alzheimer’s and doesn’t seem to have been close to any of her daughters. As they start to empty out her wardrobes to sort the clothing into charity shop, or send to Africa, or throw away, the sisters start to laugh together. Teresa seems unaware of the inconsistencies of sending ball gowns to Zimbabwe. They each choose an evening dress and giggle away at the effect, dressing up like children.
Children is what is missing from all three sisters but this play is concerned with their memories of the past of their childhoods and how those memories diverge. Catherine has brought a supply of cannabis and sharing it, they develop an air of bonhomie.
It is a play about regrets and nostalgia, and about their abrasive mother who might be the reason for their childlessness. Vi pretended that her marriage was perfect but the daughters remember otherwise. There is much to laugh at in Shelagh Stephenson’s play. One daughter says, “That Vi dyed her hair red and afterwards dogs ran away from her in the street!”
Does every family have a tin box with secrets inside it? Mary is looking for the tin with chrysanthemums on it, a Pandora’s box, the contents of which I shall not reveal. Catherine talks about her therapist and the succession of Javiers. Teresa has too much to drink and accuses Frank of having an affair.
Stephenson’s play is a study of sisterly rivalries and inconsistencies of memory with underlying sadness and poignancy. The acting performances are excellent we feel for Laura Rogers’ disappointed Mary, recognise Adam James’ disappointing, ambivalent Mike, Carolina Main’s rootless Catherine and eldest sister, Theresa (Lucy Black)’s displaced mothering and rivalry with Mary.
I found Anna Reid’s wide bedroom set rather distancing, not helped by the covid spaced audience also giving a feeling of emptiness and remoteness. Also the mirrored panels are not glass but mirror plastic and started to bend and give distorted reflections which might have been intentional along the lines of distorted memory, or maybe accidental, but I found them distracting. Hampstead will be thankfully back to full capacity audiences on 27th September.
Alice Hamilton, the director recalls her own mother acting in this oft produced play in an amdram production. Mary asks, “Who are you if they take your memories away?”
The Memory of Water
Written by Shelagh Stephenson
Directed by Alice Hamilton
Director: Alice Hamilton
Designer: Anna Reid
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Composer and Sound Designer: Harry Blake
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking to 16th October 2021
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Baker Street
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at Hampstead Theatre
on 20th September 2021