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Dated 14th February 2018

By David Slater, NODA NW

Mary (Katrina Heath), Teresa (Liz Holland) and Catherine (Rachel Doyle-Richards) enjoy a rare moment of bonding after the death of their mother in the Memory of Water

NODA Review - The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson

This was an interesting play which was new to me and in some ways, could be said to have a connection (albeit a rather loose one!) with the Hippodrome’s previous presentation, ‘Blithe Spirit’: both plays revolve around the dearly departed and include spectral visitations to the stage after all. That’s really where the similarities end however and Matt Parker presented a thoughtful production of an interesting play, fusing comedy and tragedy really rather well and giving a bewitched audience plenty of food for thought.

The play centres on the death of matriarch Vi and the immediate impact this has on her daughters Teresa, Mary and Catherine. Each of them are very different personalities and deal with both the passing of their mother and their lives in general, in very different ways. The central theme running through the play is that of memory and perspective: how the same events are seen in different ways and how long shadows can be cast by misinterpreted intentions and inaccurate recollections. All of the sisters have very different memories of the same past events and experiences, shaping their personalities for good or ill and affecting their relationships with each other accordingly. The occasion of preparing for their mother’s funeral brings the sisters together and old animosities and disagreements are of course pushed to the fore. This lightly comic play has much to say and disguised its deeper truths behind a layer of humour. Performances were of a great standard across the board and the play was - for me at least - an unexpected pleasure.

Janet Spooner appeared fleetingly but effectively in spectral form as Vi, her reflections on events of the past helpfully putting her misguided daughters more fully in the picture. This was a frostily accomplished performance from Janet and although her time on stage was brief, she made the character very memorable. Eldest daughter Teresa (Elizabeth Holland in a very forthright performance) was very much the fuss-budget domineering pain in the bum: a peddler of quack remedies and health foods along with her long-suffering husband Frank, played very nicely by Michael Gill. Teresa has had to shoulder the burden of secret shady doings of long ago and we see her Hyacinth Bucket briskness crumble as suppressed emotions bubble up as the play progresses. 

Katrina Heath did a fine job of bringing Mary - the middle sister - to life and while on the surface, her strong, intelligent, sophisticated, professional veneer seems impervious to the emotional upheavals and general chaos surrounding her, Katrina brought out the bitter-sweet fragility at Mary’s core. Youngest sister Catherine was played with a great deal of energy by Rachel Doyle Edwards, expressing the flighty, outrageous character very well indeed. Again, a bundle of complex emotions and insecurities lie at the heart of her character and her coping mechanisms - drinking, shopping, generally behaving badly - provided much humour in the play. 

The male presence in the play was provided by Michael Gill and Richard Holley: Richard playing the part of Mike, Mary’s married lover. Mike and Mary’s relationship is a complex one and it was hard to see how it was likely to end in anything other than disaster. Katrina and Richard did a good job of conveying some of their dysfunctional neediness and if Richard occasionally came across as a little stilted or mannered in his characterisation, it suited Mike’s particular brand of passive aggressive arrogant, self-pitying behaviour very well. Michael Gill’s Frank, downtrodden and defeated, started on the long road of self discovery as the play progressed in what was a very natural and realistic performance from Michael. 

The Todmorden tech team did a sterling job of creating a realistic and homely set for the bedroom where the action takes place, dressed to perfection and which really looked the part. Matt Parker steered just the right path between bringing out the comedy of the piece and at the same time, letting the more interesting themes of the play emerge too. More serious plot revelations were handled well and comic scenes progressed with a light touch, making for an excellent dramatic combination.

This was an enjoyable evening of thoughtful entertainment and a first class production of an engaging drama. I really do hope more societies follow the lead set by TAODS and try to include a more interesting and varied dramatic programme than simply churning out one weary version of a TV sitcom after another. In this respect, the good folk of Todmorden really are leading a successful fight back! Both Stuart and myself thank you all at the Hippodrome for an engaging, amusing and thoughtful evening’s entertainment and the very welcoming hospitality which accompanies every visit.