The Memory of Water, St Ninians Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Edinburgh Theatre Arts (ETA)
Shelagh Stephenson (writer), Colin McPherson (director and sound design), Finlay Black (set design), Ian Cunningham (lighting design)
Kerry Trewern(Mary), Edith Peers (Vi), Suzie Marshall (Teresa), Kirsty Doull (Catherine), Richard Croasdale (Mike), Danny Farrimond (Frank)
Running time

Memory can be a slippery trickster or a sticky birr. It can dance in one way with one person and take different steps altogether with another, leaving each with their own ‘true’ own experience.
Research in a French lab by Jacques Benveniste deduced that water can hold memory. This mind-blowing concept gives the title to English playwright Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 comedy The Memory of Water, the Spring 2017 play chosen by ETA.

We are in an unnamed Yorkshire coastal town where three sisters have gathered in their old family home to arrange and attend the funeral of their elderly mother who has recently died of dementia. The three very different lapsed Catholic daughters come laden with more than their funeral dresses. They are all weighed down with the baggage of their past in a family described by one of their husbands as being ‘worse than the Borgias’ that had a father who was a ‘professional mute’.

The play is a series of scenes involving permutations of the characters as their various woes, secrets and hang-ups are emptied like the poor departed Vi’s clothes in her old wardrobe. It meanders across these issues but there is no real conclusion. What makes this frankly overlong, black-as-Yorkshire-coal comedy worthwhile, is the quicksilver speed with which Stephenson’s pen dips from her pot of misery ink to the one holding delicious wit. 2 ½ hours on a not too comfy seat is testament to the engagement and skills of ETA who don’t miss a beat across this epic.

Once again, ETA kicks above their height with an ambitious and challenging production where in this case the cast makes a good go of the Yorkshire accents. Finlay Black’s set of the bedroom of the deceased, where one generation’s treasures are another’s trash, is brilliantly realised. Like a reverse character from C S Lewis, the ghost of Vi (Edith Peers) steps out of her wardrobe that’s packed with the clothes of her past, hanging heavy with memory, to haunt poor Mary (Kerry Trewern), a doctor who has a case study of post traumatic amnesia and a married colleague, Mark, as a lover, played in relaxed style by Richard Croasdale.

The other two sisters are the highly strung and stressed out Teresa who ironically runs a health supplement business with her second husband, the severely put-upon Frank played by Danny Farrimond who nearly brings the house down when he is laden with the prematurely chucked out dresses of the dead. Then there is the needy, vulnerable, pot-smoking Catherine whose Spanish partner lets her down at the wrong time. Both Suzie Marshall and Kirsty Doull take on these respective roles with absolute credibility that were a pleasure to watch.

This hilarious study in sorority, grief and disintegrating relationships, in a venue where theatre scene changes are necessarily prolonged, is punctuated by songs from the great Nina Simone to ease the way. Once again, ETA punches well above its weight with an ambitious challenging and entertaining production.

Monday 24th to Saturday 29th April 7:30pm (plus 2:30pm on Saturday)