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Friday, 29 June 2012 10:02

The Memory of Water – overused plot saved by good acting

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Stuart Thembisile Lewis: The Rhodes University Drama Department’s shortened adaptation of Shelagh Stephenson’s comedy The Memory of Water, part of their inTranceit 2012 National Arts Festival program, is a play of stereotypes – stereotypes which, in this case, ultimately work, but only due to some fantastic acting by the female leads.

The play focuses on three mildly estranged sisters brought together again for their mother’s funeral, an over-used plot device at best. The sisters – Mary, the main protagonist and the over-achieving middle child whose life is actually in disarray, Teresa, the responsible busybody older sister turned disappointed busybody housewife, and Catherine, the attention-starved promiscuous, alcoholic and drugged up youngest sibling – predictably dredge up a web of memories and old conflicts while they cope with their mother’s death.

The other characters also fit near perfect stereotypes. Mike is Mary’s long-term already-married boyfriend who will not leave his ‘sick’ wife for her. Frank, Teresa’s husband, is the long-suffering, frustrated and stoic spouse. Finally, Vi, the dead mother, who visits Mary in her dreams, plays the old and long-since-faded rose.

While the director of this piece, especially as a Masters student, should have selected something with a far more unused plot, one cannot fault her casting. Each character was a perfect fit for the person portraying it. In particular, Kelsey Stewart as Teresa stood out. She was able to neatly capture the downward spiral of Teresa’s self-control in a dynamic and engaging performance.

Both the men were, however, very disappointing. Ed Pepperell was too stiff even for the stiff-as-a-corpse Frank and Zano Mthembu turned Mike into a near-slapstick character, only on stage for a cheap laugh.

The set design of Bianca Binneman deserves a special mention. Great care was obviously taken to reflect the sheer clutter that built up as Vi entered the final stages of Alzheimer’s and, also, her life. Each character was able to interact with it in a completely unique way.

Despite her careful design, the set did, however, attempt to kill anyone who happened to be standing backstage at one point. The metal frame of the pseudo-window in the room toppled off its platform and crashed into the flats directly behind it, causing them too, to topple over.

Stewart, however, came to the rescue, dismissing the sudden lack of a ‘wall’ and quipping: “Old house.”

 inTranceit 2012 – The Memory of Water is showing at the NG Kerk Hall at:

29 June @ 13:00

30 June @ 18:00

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