Memory of Water

JESSICA PATTERSON doesn’t like domesticated animals or Disney, but this production had her crying, like Bambi should have done.

comic Corpus Playroom death Drama dramatic tension four and a half stars Holly Maguire Jessica Patterson memory of water Theatre theme

30th November – 4th December, Corpus Playroom, 7pm, £7/5

Directed by Holly Maguire


I do not like domesticated animals, I do not like children between the ages of 3-13 and I have a committed hatred for all things produced by Walter Disney and his insidious franchise. The above are some of the reasons for which I have been accused of being less than completely human, but last night I went to see ‘Memory of Water’ and I cried. I cried like I should have done at Bambi. Where insipid tales of talking critters have failed to move me, director Holly Maguire, succeeded.

This Olivier award-winning play did not disappoint. The script glides elegantly from comic farce to poignant realism, striking an evocative balance between the two. Three very different sisters congregate at their childhood home for their mother’s funeral. As their personal lives unravel over intermittent swigs of whisky the play develops into a captivating collage of nostalgia, regret and humour. Varying shades of neurosis are flung across the stage in swiftly executed one-liners. The half remembered recollections and immediate revelations of the grieving women swerve unrelentingly between pessimistic nihilism and contented resignation. The theme of memory, particularly its subjectivity, meanders subtly throughout the narrative. It was also funny.

Holly Maguire’s staging navigated this catalogue of dramatic moments confidently and effectively. The inclusion of several directorial flourishes elevated this play from good to excellent. The use of a mirror to capture moments of interaction between characters, dead and alive, added a dynamic quality to textual allusions to reflective memory. Likewise comic details, like one character’s strategic placement of a cupboard door mid neurotic outburst from his sister-in law, were inspired.

The cast’s execution of this play’s intimidating naturalism was particularly masterful. Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s portrayal of ‘Mary’, the sister at the centre of the unfolding narrative, was effortlessly believable. Her ability to switch between rapid-fire quips and organic expressions of spontaneous emotion are what forced a betraying drop of emotion out of my usually arid tear duct. In support, Paul Adeyefa as Mary’s ‘married boyfriend from the television’ had an easy charm and a convincing tone.  Likewise, Tab model Victoria Rigby’s effervescent portrayal of the scantily clad ‘Catherine’ provided a colourful energy to all of her scenes. Gwenfair Hawkins, as the third sister, started off as perhaps quite nervous, but by the second act had settled into a confident performance. Where many a student production would fall short in the face of such a challenge, this one managed to execute herculean levels of dramatic tension with talent equal to that of a professional production.

But, lest you think that I have betrayed my ice-like facade entirely, there were some flaws for which I must deduct half a star. In particular James Bloor’s shocking attempt at (I think) a north Yorkshire accent made Russell Crowe sound like a master of linguistic impersonation. His odd characterisation of ‘Frank’, a simple and straightforward man, amounted to a comedy northerner with a pythonesque gait. Also, at times there appeared to be a few slips in the script, probably due to first-night jitters. Finally, there was perhaps a missed opportunity to cut the script a little, for whilst my attention was firmly held throughout, it was approaching the boundary.

“You paint this picture of me and I don’t recognise myself”. This play beautifully toyed with the ideas of identity and memory with a subtlety that avoided affectation. This is one of the best productions I have seen in Cambridge. I would strongly recommend that you round off this term by taking a trip to the Playroom. If anything it will prepare you for the alcohol laced scenes of familial discord associated with the coming season.