The Memory Of Water

Written by Shelagh Stephenson

Thursday 19th July to Saturday 21st July and Tuesday 24th July to Saturday 28th July 2001

Directed by John Batstone

Three sisters gather for their mother's funeral. Each has her memories of her childhood and this creates conflict, which is, by turns, angry, desperate, poignant and wildly funny.

The situation is deepened by the recurring presence of Vi, the mum, a ghostly vision is flowing taffeta. Whilst visible only to one of the sisters, her influence and demand to be understood rather than buried and forgotten drives the other sisters as well. An evening, provocative and hilarious is promised.

AuthorShelagh Stephenson

Shelagh Stephenson (b 1955)

Shelagh Stephenson was born in Northumberland and read drama at Manchester University. Her plays frequently deal with new advances in science, such as the concept in the title of 'The Memory of Water', and include commentary on possibly pseudo-scientific fads.

Her stage plays include 'The Memory of Water', 'An Experiment with an Air Pump', 'Ancient Lights', 'Mappa Mundi' and 'The Long Road'. Her play 'Five Kinds of Silence' was originally produced for BBC Radio in 1996 and adapted for the stage in 2000 and it won the 1996 Writers Guild Award for Best Original Drama. Her other plays for BBC Radio include 'Darling Peidi', 'Life is a Dream' 'Nemesis' and 'The People's Princess'.

PlayThe Memory Of Water

'The Memory of Water' premiered at the Hampstead Theatre, London in 1996 and was first published in 1997. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy and was adapted by the author for the 2002 film, 'Before You Go', directed by Lewis Gilbert, starring Julie Walters, John Hannah, and Joanne Whalley

The story centres around three sisters; Teresa, Mary and Catherine, who come together before their mother's funeral. The play focuses more on how each sister deals with the death and how it directly affects them. The three each have different memories of the same events which inevitably causes them to bicker about whose memories are true. As the three women interact after years of separation, many of their hidden lies and self-betrayals reach the surface. Memory is the main theme in this play. The sisters' memories - recalled as they are in all their inaccuracies, almost interact with each other, and show that despite synchronicites of time and place the people involved in the incidents of the past cannot agree on the facts of a unified experience. This is echoed in Vi's words, which portrays Alzheimer's disease as being adrift among a series of islands of your own identity.

The Bench Production

The Memory Of Water poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


MaryDebbie Money
ViNicola Scadding
TeresaSally Hartley
CatherineSue Dawes
MikeDavid Penrose
FrankPete Woodward


Director John Batstone
Stage Manager Same Emery
Assistant Stage Manager Zoë Corrigan
Lighting Design Damon Wakelin
Lighting Operation Alice Corrigan
Furniture and Props Derek Callam
Sharman Callam
Jackie Branson
Poster Design Pete Woodward
Publicity Paul Davies
Set Design Sam Emery
Photography John Plimmer
Front of House John Batstone

Director's Notes

From King Lear to Chekhov's Three Sisters, the situation of three women, bound by family ties, but dislocated by experience or temperament, has provided a powerful stimulus to the action. In these two plays it is the father, aged and irascible, or dead a year since, who provides the focus for bitterness or loss. The mother does not figure. We know nothing of Lear's Queen or Colonel Prozorov's wife. In The Memory of Water, the father is recalled as a futile, self-absorbed cypher, who never in forty-eight years of marriage spoke a word of endearment and whose last words may have been "Pass the mustard, Marjorie" (not even getting his wife's name right).

But here it is the mother who crucially looms: her bed, her clothes, finally her coffin. It is this that determines the playwright's decision to crack the naturalistic mode and recreate the figure of Vi, as envisioned by the middle daughter. If the play, conventionally, is to move towards resolving the central mystery in Mary's life and attempted reconciliation, the ghostly spectre has to be laid to rest.

In this production the jettisoning of a naturalistic box-set and disconcerting lighting, sets out to reflect the dislocation of these peoples lives.

While working on the play I have enjoyed reading two recent novels: Kate Atkinson's 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' - mother/daughter squabbles (also in the North of England) and Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth'.

John Batstone


The NewsPhilippa Arnell

Snappy comedy is a tour de force

Winner of the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy last year, Memory of Water was an undoubted hit at Havant Arts Centre. It started out as a tame piece of writing, with a reliance on sarcasm and the odd expletive to raise a titter. But as the actors warmed into a snappy pace, it built in to a stunning tour de force from players and playwright.

Shelagh Stephenson's work throws together family members with about as much in common as Jeffrey Archer has with someone who tells the truth. The death of their mother provides the occasion for a get-together. But what starts out as a time for fond recollection turns into a chance to drag up old animosities and re-visit bitter resentments. There's nothing like a stonking row to clear the air.

The six-strong cast delivered strong performances but it was Sally Hartley's transformation from middle class, new age health nut to drunken, frustrated banshee that really stole the show. She was an exquisite drunk - disconcertingly realistic. Likewise, Debbie Money as the acerbic Mary and Nicola Scadding, playing the spectre of mummy dearest, were gripping. Top drama. Until July 28.

The News, 20th July 2001

Production Photographs