Review: The Memory of Water by Wag the Dog Theatre

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It’s always a conundrum to decide on a first play to stage for a new theatre company. A classic? Shakespeare? Something edgy and modern? What they ultimately pick is a production that will encapsulate what their company stands for, and as a means to leave a lasting first impression on the local theatre scene.

New company Wag the Dog Theatre seems to have chosen well with their debut production, having gone with British playwright Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play The Memory of Water, a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional working class family who come together when their mother passes.

Set in their recently deceased mother’s bedroom in a small house in Yorkshire, north of England, three sisters with very different personalities reunite to deal with the funeral preparations. Victoria Mintey plays Mary, a middle-aged doctor with a caustic retort always at the ready. Mary never had much of a childhood, having been pushed to become a high achiever and do well in school, and is involved in an affair with married TV doctor Mike (Mark Seow). Deborah Hoon plays Teresa, a woman always on the edge essentially handling the funeral by herself, exasperated with her sisters. But her life isn’t going so great either, having started a health supplement business with her husband Frank (Sean Worrall), and finding their marriage strained. Finally, happy-go-lucky youngest sister Catherine (Krissy Jesudason) is constantly dressed in skirts high enough to ‘see her ovaries’ and has a penchant for the melodramatic, finding herself at the losing end of a string of failed relationships. And while all this is going on, there’s even some classic northern Gothic horror thrown into the mix when Mary is haunted by visions of her dementia-ridden mother Vi (Susie Penrice Tyrie).

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Each and every character was very well cast and painted a three dimensional, fully realized version of each family member, and Wag the Dog Theatre picked the perfect play to showcase their cast’s talents. Victoria Mintey in particular, probably had the hardest role to play, but did so with aplomb, delicately balancing portraying her troubled history and relationship with her mother with laugh out loud sarcasm. Deborah Hoon started off a little stiff, but as she got more and more into character, she became more comfortable and completely transforms herself when her character imbibes just a little too much, and her performance was appealing in the way a car accident is impossible to look away from, her unbridled drunken rant tearing deep into each and every family member, a 360 degree turn from her tense frame as she frets over losing her electronic organizer. Krissy Jesudason was an absolute riot every step of the way as well, showing off her character’s flighty nature while also digging deep into her emotional core in the second half. Finally, despite her brief appearances, Susie Penrice Tyrie embodies the Gothic ghost perfectly, floating across the stage like a spectral presence and delivering sage advice to the tormented Mary.

Set designer Lloyd Chia crafted a visually splendid set for the play, draping long flowy cyan lengths of cloth down from the ceiling to create the room, acting as the walls and ceiling and recalling the play’s title. From outside the window, a rotating disco ball light was cleverly employed to create the illusion of an eternal snow, and there was a distinct chill over the entire theatre throughout the course of the play.

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Although marketed as a comedy, The Memory of Water ultimately serves as a deeply introspective piece that portrays a family in all their dysfunctional glory, revealing the darkness that undercuts every family. But at the same time, there’s something strangely reassuring about it. The play’s title comes from a line which suggests that no matter how many times you distil water, its curative properties still live on. Even with the death of their mother, the family stays together, no matter the forces that threaten to pull them apart. And that seems to be a theme that will similarly seep into Wag the Dog Theatre’s mantra and style as well – whatever the crisis, this too shall pass, but with a start as promising as this one, Wag the Dog will continue to thrive through any cold winter night, and we can’t wait to see how they’ll continue to grow and develop as a company, improving with each performance and countless more productions.

The Memory of Water plays at the Drama Centre Black Box till 9th July. Tickets available from SISTIC

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