Siblings thrown together at the death of their last parent make for good drama. I went through it recently, with the death of a mother already partially lost to Alzheimer’s, and it was an amiable event, with lots of mad sad laughter. And plenty of family fables and whisky-fuelled memories -“ many as loosely based on reality as my mother’s memories in her last years.
You too may be relieved not to have a family like the three dysfunctional sisters gathering for their mother’s funeral in this contemporary British play, The Memory Of Water. Only later when we meet Mum, as a preening self-absorbed ghost in her favourite pearls and cocktail dress, do we begin to see why the sisters are so screwed up. Mary is the favoured middle sister resented for her success as a psychiatrist. Catherine Moore struggles at first to make real her inexplicable nastiness to the others. Niki Owen plays Teresa, the familiar older sister who is a martyr to her overly developed and controlling sense of responsibility. And that leaves the wild younger one, Catherine, promiscuous, egocentric and a mess of low self-esteem. Jennie Baird is over the top but memorable in the role.
Each has an entirely different memory of their mother and family folklore. For their icy reunion, through the sleet this freezing night, two men also arrive to help open more family secrets and watery memories. Mike is a TV doctor having an affair with Mary, but typically he won’t leave his wife to give her the baby she pines for. Frank is the dull salesman married to Teresa and, as played by Andrew Crowley, is refreshingly true and normal as he and we cope with this sisterly madness.
Wendy Strehlow is suitably enigmatic as the hard-faced Mum, returning from death in her more glamorous form before Alzheimer’s had robbed her too of her memory. Playwright Shelagh Stephenson hangs this black comedy on the fickleness of memory, on the impact of past pains and events which are wrongly remembered or deliberately repressed. Kim Hardwick directs it all as a rollicking romp with good laughs at the spitefulness and emotional excess, but with few nuances to make us also care for these poor sisters. Performances and timing are uneven but the funereal comedy does bring lots of good mad sad laughter.
The Memory Of Water is a Whoosh Production at the Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point, until 6 August.