The Memory of Water

Previewed 7 January 1999, Opened 11 January 1999, Closed 22 May 1999 at the Vaudeville Theatre

Shelagh Stephenson's black comedy The Memory of Water in London starring Alison Steadman, Samantha Bond and Julia Sawalha

Mary, Catherine and Teresa are sisters who think they share a common past. A world of disputed bicycles, injured cats, Mum's cocktail dresses and perfumed advice - a seaside childhood punctuated by the odd monosyllable from Dad. But where does reality end and family myth begin? Why has war broken out in Mother's bedroom and why is Vi, so recently deceased, still with us? A bittersweet comedy about memory and loss - funny, poignant and acutely observed.

The cast features Alison Steadman as 'Teresa', Samantha Bond as 'Mary', Julia Sawalha as 'Catherine', Patrick Drury as 'Mike', Mark Lambert as 'Frank' and Margot Leicester as 'Vi'. Directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Sue Plummer, lighting by Robert Bryan and sound by John A Leonard.

Alison Steadman's London theatre credits include Jim Cartwright's play The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the National Theatre and Aldwych Theatre in 1992.

This is a re-cast version of the production originally seen at the Hampstead Theatre (previewed from 11 July 1996, opened on 16 July 1996 and closed on 10 August) when the cast featured Haydn Gwynne as 'Mary', Jane Booker as 'Teresa', Matilda Ziegler as 'Catherine', Alexander Hanson as 'Mike', Dermot Crowley as 'Frank' and Mary Jo Randle as 'Vi'. Directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Sue Plummer, lighting by Robert Bryan and sound by John A Leonard.

"It is rather the memory of whisky that lingers in Shelagh Stephenson's painfully funny comedy. Alison Steadman empties a bottle of scotch as one of three sisters who return home to a remote seaside town in the frozen north of England for a funeral. She makes a most convincing drunk as she totters around the room dispensing home truths about her severely dysfunctional family. She spills lots of beans, but not a drop of the hard stuff, before gingerly coming to rest on her mother's recently vacated death bed. She is brilliant as bossy, hard done by, twice-wed Teresa who runs a health food business. Her performance is matched by Samantha Bond as severe sister Mary who has a married lover in tow and is desperate to have a baby. Julia Sawalha is equally impressive as kooky Katherine, the youngest of the three who smokes funny fags and is cruelly ditched in a phone call from her Spanish boyfriend. It is tragic, funny, moving and sad - black comedy magic." The Daily Mirror

"Even the rising up of a fairly fresh corpse fails to breathe enough dramatic life into Shelagh Stephenson's dark comedy about three grown-up daughters come home for their mother's funeral. For in some pre-crematory hours of malt whisky drunk, cannabis smoked and rude home truths exchanged, Stephenson dumps a hearse-load of black comedy, flecked with laughs, in front of us. Only the finale generates a poignant, thoughtful stir. The Memory of Water is mainly enjoyable for the performances of three super actresses, Alison Steadman, Samantha Bond and Julia Sawalha, artfully managing to extract real humour from stock characters... Stephenson's idea is to cast the women as victims of their prim, sexually unfulfilled mother. For each of them, love or marriage or both proves hard to hold. So Samantha Bond's 39-year-old endearing Mary is a hospital doctor beset by fear that her married doctor-lover will provide neither child nor wedding ring. Alison Steadman's older, childless Teresa merely bustles around reeking of domestic martyrdom and resentment at what a bad hand life has dealt her... Julia Sawalha's amusingly mindless Catherine, who uses her sex appeal as a shrimping net may be a caricature of late Sixties hippiedom but her Spanish lover's defection suggests she has the family problem with men. In Terry Johnson's sensitive and delicate production, which ensures the comic cut and thrust is never overpitched, The Memory of Water does reach a comic climax when Steadman's drunken, infuriated frump of a Teresa lets rip and roar." The London Evening Standard

"When I first saw Shelagh Stephenson's The Memory Of Water at the Hampstead Theatre, I observed 'if it isn't snapped up for the West End, there ain't no justice'. Well, justice has been done-two-and-a-half years later! A recast production of this marvellous play has at last reached the Vaudeville Theatre, in the West End, and it is even better than I remember. The poignant but often wildly funny story of three sisters gathering at the home of their lately departed mother to attend the funeral, it is now stunningly played by Alison Steadman, Julia Sawalha and Samantha Bond. Ms Bond has the most moving moments, Ms Steadman has the funniest-the scene where sister Teresa gets hopelessly drunk is hilarious. Don't miss Terry Johnson's production-it's as warming as a cup of cocoa, or a nip of the hard stuff, these cold winter evenings." The News of the World

Memory of Water in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 7 January 1999, opened on 11 January 1999 and closed on 22 May 1999