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Sisters superb among memories of mum

PUBLISHED: 17:02 13 March 2002 | UPDATED: 11:32 03 March 2010

THREE sisters gather in the family home by the sea on the eve of their mother's funeral. Mary, a successful doctor, is bright and sarcastic. Teresa, New Age crank, is a nervous wreck and a martyr, and Catherine, the youngest, is self-obsessed and vulnerable.

THREE sisters gather in the family home by the sea on the eve of their mother's funeral. Mary, a successful doctor, is bright and sarcastic. Teresa, New Age crank, is a nervous wreck and a martyr, and Catherine, the youngest, is self-obsessed and vulnerable.

As they sort their mother's life laundry – one bag for the dump, one for the Third World – memories of the past surface like the jetsam thrown up by the encroaching sea – some hilarious, some distressing, some devastating.

Two of their menfolk arrive, Mary's lover Mike, celebrity TV doctor and total cad, and Frank, Teresa's salesman husband, who lied in his lonely hearts' CV. Sally's latest boyfriend, Xavier, a Spanish restaurateur, never shows.

The story focuses on Mary as she confronts her mother's ghost and the closely guarded secret from her past, but the gathering brings a reconciliation of sorts for all three sisters.

Shelagh Stephenson's award-winning play, Memory of Water, is beautifully written. She has a gift for comedy, wringing laughs out of the most excruciating situations, although, given the subject matter, much of the humour is dark – and there's a sprinkling of expletives.

The acting from the Gallery Players is faultless throughout. Linda Bailey's Mary, at first self-possessed and bitingly witty, is deeply moving as she loses her composure, Caron May as Teresa is delightfully funny, especially when hopelessly drunk, and Sally Scurrell is perfectly infuriating as the attention-seeking Catherine.

Phil Cory as Mike and Nigel Andrews as Frank give intelligent support, and Jenni Furnish is excellent as Vi, the mother.

Steve Wooldridge's direction is assured and observant, helped considerably by the detailed set.

This bittersweet play is given a memorable treatment. Catch it if you can – at Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich, until March 16.

JAMES HAYWARD


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