Shelagh Stephenson’s Laurence Olivier Award winning play, The Memory of Water, takes a new look at the age-old traditions of recollecting family stories. A beautiful bittersweet comedy, bound by sisterly love, anger, tears and of course laughter.
The 1996 hit British play was an instant attraction for actor Madeleine Jones (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) who says as soon as she read the audition scenes, she knew she wanted to be a part of the play. “The writing is sharp, and the relationships are immediately identifiable, the comedy comes out of the deep relatability,” says Jones.
This play is about family, about sisterhood (Mary, Catherine and Teresa are sisters who share a common past) and motherhood, about mothers and their daughters, about how complex and fraught those relationships can be… but also how simple they can be at the same time – the love that exists underneath everything, sometimes despite everything. It’s about grief and longing. And it’s about memory – how important, malleable and intangible it can be. Jones says she loves Mary’s line: “Who are you if you take your memories away?”.
\Jones plays Catherine, the youngest sister of the three, and there is certainly something in the character that Jones can relate to.
” I grew up with three older brothers so can definitely relate to her desire to be the centre of attention,” says Jones. “She wants to be understood and appreciated by her sisters. She doesn’t necessarily go about it the right way, but she wants them to see her as the grownup she is, not the version of her that existed when they all lived together in this house.”
Interestingly, Stephenson’s plays frequently deal with new advances in science (or pseudoscientific fads) but are, nevertheless, eminently insightful and poignant studies on human behaviour.
Jones concurs saying Stephenson’s writing has an acerbic wittiness. “I think she’s painted such clear characters and familial dynamics for an audience to relate to. You laugh along at their apparent misery then get surprised by the emotional gut punches. There’s also such evocative beauty in the language. Again, I love this line of Mary’s: ‘Sea fret freezing the hairs in your nostrils'”.
The play is currently running at The Ensemble Theatre with a cast of 6, including Michala Banas, Thomas Campbell, Nicole Da Silva, Jo Downing, Johnny Nasser, and, of course, Jones. Jones describes Rachel Chant’s rehearsal room as utterly delightful.
“This group of cast and creatives, under the calm and considered leadership of our director Rachel, has made for a collaborative, caring, vulnerable and hilarious few weeks. We are having a lot of fun together.”
Jones is a graduate of the Actors Centre and her career as taken a wide path from STC’s Muriel’s Wedding to The Wind in the Willows for the Australian Shakespeare Co. As an actor she loves finding the heartbeat of a character. What makes them tick?
“Even in the most problematic or, for lack of a better word, “damaged” people, my job is to find their humanity. I’ve been fortunate enough to play a huge range of humans and non-humans, magical and non-magical. I look forward to whoever crosses my path next.”
A true thespian, Jones says the theatre is her second home- and what a transformative place it its!
“I’m writing this as I sit backstage, waiting for our third preview to begin. Over the speaker in the dressing room, I can hear the pre-show music and the burbling conversations and laughter of the audience entering and finding their seats. How wonderful that with so much going on in the world, we can gather together for a few hours to laugh and cry and have a communal, human experience that will never exist again. That’s a kind of magic, I reckon.”
Shelagh Stephenson’s poignant and painfully funny comedy is about conflicting memories, life and loss. Says Jones, “Are you or someone you know a Teresa, a Mary or a Catherine? Maybe your brother-in-law is a Frank, or your best friend is dating a Mike? Is your mother just like Violet? You’ll have to come and meet us to find out.”
October 20 – November 25