Review: The Memory Of Water Is Utterly Forgettable

The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre ★★☆☆☆

Review: The Memory Of Water Is Utterly Forgettable The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre 2
Lucy Black, Carolina Main and Laura Rogers in The Memory of Water. Image: Helen Murray

Twenty-five years since Sheelagh Stephenson's award-winning Memory of Water debuted at Hampstead Theatre, it returns there for another jolly evening exploring death, unhealthy relationships and false memories.

We're only half joking. There is some genuine comedy in this story of grown up three sisters who gather on the eve of their mother's funeral, but it is submerged beneath a very conventional melodrama which has long lost its power to stir thoughts or emotions.

In this, Stephenson's first play, the siblings are neatly packaged up in cookiecutter roles. Mary (Laura Rogers) is the doctor with the married lover Mike (Adam James, currently on screen in Vigil). Teresa (Lucy Black) is the frantic arch-organiser with the nice but boring husband Frank (a hilarious turn from Goodness Gracious Me's Kulvinder Ghir). Catherine (Carolina Main) is drifting from relationship to relationship.

Presumably to combat the prosaic nature of much of the script, there are frequent bouts of the kind of overacting better suited to a farce. The plot does pick up after the interval — especially in scenes when Mary converses with her mother's ghost — but there's no longer enough of interest in this work to justify its two hour length or its revival.

The play's themes — possibly novel and thought-provoking in 1996 — are now well-trodden and unsubtle and, in some cases, ironic. Given how often it pronounces that nostalgia isn't what it used to be, those seeing Memory of Water (whether again, or for the first time) might be inclined to agree.

The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre. Until 16 October

Last Updated 14 September 2021