We round up the reviews for this revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s play which originally premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in 1996.

(c) Helen Murray

British Theatre.com: ***** “It’s all splendid,  including the wickedly specific place-and-period designs by Anna Reid (oh, posh Yorkshire! O, the bedspread and the mirrored wardrobes!).  It all serves Stephenson’s beautiful writing with laser precision.”

The Guardian: *** “However, much of the play’s humour seems frozen in time too, with flat routines about vitamin fads, leaves on railway lines and colonic irrigation. Although dope and whiskey are passed around, the comedy never achieves a true headiness and the sisters’ quips and snipes don’t always sting as they should.”

City AM: “Stephenson spins a lot of plates in The Memory of Water, and commendably few of them end up breaking. It feels far nimbler than its two and a half hour run time suggests, and there’s genuine warmth in the messy sibling relationship.”

Londonist: ** “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.”

Evening Standard: ** “The characters are willfully, infuriatingly inconsistent, though: heartbroken one moment, cheerful and conciliatory the next. Stephenson seems to delight in undercutting herself.”

Broadway World: **** “Even after a quarter of a century after its conception, The Memory of Water remains poignant. Perhaps it’s because it displays, at its very core, a profound understanding of human nature; or because every family has secrets. It’s the giggle at a funeral that creates a brief ripple of laughter through the mourners.”

Camden New Journal: “The Memory of Water is very much of its time – with references to Margaret Rutherford and Pan’s People among others – but its exploration of sibling rivalry is timeless. The play is a gift for the three female leads whose roles carry equal weight; each character has a moment of unravelling; and each actress is given a moment to shine.”

The Arts Desk: *** “Alice Hamilton’s rather sombre production starts off by doing justice to Stephenson’s zippy one-liners — some of which are really great — but soon settles into a kind of stillness, which allows a lot of pain to come through, but also saps some of the energy of this comedy.”

The Reviews Hub: *** “The story may disappoint but the acting, as you would expect from Hampstead Theatre, is top notch especially Laura Rogers who plays Mary with just the right amount of brittleness and Adam James, currently to be seen in BBC’s Vigil, who seems very natural as Mike, Mary’s married boyfriend.”

The Independent: **** “Shelagh Stephenson’s play about three daughters brought together by the death of their mother encapsulates the dark humour of grief.”

A Younger Theatre: ***** “This play is a true masterpiece of British theatre, as is clear from its continued relevance today. But this production doesn’t take that success as a given, revitalising it with true craft and a clear vision. An exceptional performance, that I hope keeps the heart of this play beating for another twenty-five years.”

London Theatre1: **** “In this process, director Alice Hamilton draws tremendous performances from her cast of six, with Lucy Black outstanding as Teresa, the eldest child striving for authority – over herself as much as her sisters – in a world turned enticingly motherless.”

The Telegraph: ** “Back at Hampstead, where it premiered, Shelagh Stephenson’s study of memory’s fallibility hammers home its points and has not aged well.”

London Theatre.co.uk: ** “None of the women, mum included, are remotely likable, and the actresses don’t attempt to endear these people to us, instead speaking very fast as if speed of delivery were itself a strategic course of attack.”

The Upcoming: **** “The meandering nature of the script describes life well: it veers unpredictably with non-sequiturs and resurfaced memories. The writing is still sharp, funny and well observed, and the central theme of the reliability of memory is an interesting one.”

The Memory of the Water will continue to play at the Hampstead Theatre until the 16th October.


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