Tag Archives: New Vic

The Memory of Water: the mother of all car-crash plays

The three sisters are joined by their late mother for a photo

This is an old article reviewing the New Vic production I saw last year. If you are looking for the Durham Dramatic Society production that I’m directing this year, you’ll find it here.

Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water is on the school English syllabus for a good reason.

By accident or by design, I seem to keep ending up watching plays with a dysfunctional family theme last year there was the excruciating Cooking with Elivs, and before that was the equally excruciating Chalet Lines. But pre-dating both these plays is the extremely popular The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson. Now, don’t worry: in spite of what the title might suggest, it’s not about an old lady who is miraculously cured of cancer by repeatedly diluting a substance in water until there’s no trace of the original substance left (although this daft theory and other old cobblers forms a sub-plot to the play). Instead, this is a reference two three sisters who used to play in the sea together on the Yorkshire coast.

Now grown up, the three sisters are back together following the death of their mother, and it would seem their mother once took part in a genetic screening programme to ensure her daughters had three specially-selected personalities to render themselves fundamentally incompatible to each other – and their mother. For a start, all three sisters have conflicting memories of the past, and who was whose favourite. There’s oldest sister Teresa who runs a bollocks “health supplement” store, and Mary, who is a highly successful proper doctor – already not a good sign. Neither does it help that it was Teresa who did all the work looking after her dying mother which Mary was busy doctoring and having an affair with a married man. Add in youngest sister Catherine, drama queen, attention seeker, and on her 78th boyfriend. Sisters do of course comfort one another in the aftermath of break up normally, but when you’ve already lost count of the number of times she’s said that this one is definitely definitely definitely the love of her life and can’t possibly go wrong this time, it gets a bit tedious.

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The thrill of The Thrill of Love

The New Vic have a good record of their revivals of classic plays – but their new play, The Thrill of Love is even better.

There’s a lot of kudos for being the first something. If you’re a woman, you can be the first woman in space or the first female Prime Minister. If you can’t achieve either of those, you can also be famous for being the last something. And that’s what Ruth Ellis achieved, the only snag being the record she bagged. Being the last woman to be hanged carries the annoying side-effect of death. On the plus side, her story was so fascinating she was immortalised in history. Peter Anthony Allen, the last man to be hanged, must be feeling very short changed. Anyway, since her death there have been many depictions of her life on stage and screen, and the latest contribution comes from Amanda Whittington (best known for Be My Baby), with a play called The Thrill of Love.

This has been premièred by the New Vic Theatre, first at their own theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and now touring to the Stephen Joseph Theatre, as they often do. If you’re wondering why these two theatres tour their productions to each other so much, it’s down to their shared history. In the early days, before Scarborough’s famous producing theatre was named after its founder, Stephen Joseph went to Stoke to set up a second theatre in the round, taking with him a little-known playwright called Alan Ayckbourn. Eventually both men returned to Scarborough, but the two theatres have generally maintained good relations. But whilst the Stephen Joseph Theatre is best know for the works of the not-so-little-known-any-more playwright, the New Vic has gone its own way, mostly showing classic plays such as Cider with Rosie, Laurel and Hardy, And A Nightingale Sang and Bus Stop in a style that is unmistakably theirs. I hadn’t realised that, for once, they were touring with a completely new play.

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