Next week, Theatre Royal Productions presents The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson. The Civic Theatre talks to director Ben Barnes about the thought-provoking journey to the staging of this play.
Can you tell us a bit about the play?
Well its set in the North of England and is about three sisters who come together for their Mother’s funeral. It’s the classic situation where heightened emotions lead to scorching confrontations. Its that rare thing – a play replete with hilarious comedy which manages at the same time to be thoroughly affecting and profound about things like the fallability of memory. It has the most beautiful description of what its like to have alzheimers disease and it’s a seriously good and well crafted play. It’s no wonder it won all the awards it did.
How have rehearsals been going so far?
This is a revival of our 2012 production so strictly speaking we are re-rehearsing the play. However, the role of Teresa, which was originally played by Tina Kellegher, is now played by Julia Lane. She is the only member of the cast who is actually from in and around where the play is set so that’s a great asset to the revival. And, of course, a new actor coming in to a key role makes us all re-examine the decisions we took when we first staged the play and that turns it into an exercise in re-invention rather than one of re-construction.
How have you approached the sensitive subject of Alzheimer’s?
With sensitivity I hope. The subject is mostly dealt with in the latter stages of the play when the eldest daughter has a conversation with her dead mother. The other sisters avoid the subject and because they are guilty about not visiting her as often as they might they minimise the extent of their mothers’ disorientation.
What made you choose to direct this play?
Well I scheduled the play for production a decade ago when I was Artistic Director at the Abbey and it was a rip roaring success there. I was very pleased it resonated with so many women particularly and I was a bit conflicted about the fact that I did not get a chance to stage it myself. Mark Lambert – who appeared in the original production and was friendly with Shelagh Stephenson the writer – did a brilliant job directing it on that occasion. I subsequently commissioned a play from Shelagh called ‘Enlightenment’ which I did direct but I always wanted a go at directing ‘The Memory of Water’. However, you have to wait until the right actors come along and I knew that in Emily Nagle, Jenni Ledwell and Tina Kellegher (and now Julia Lane) that I had really accomplished actresses who could deliver in spades. Which they did and are doing again. It’s a joyful thing to behold actors at the top of their game taking something like this by the scruff of the neck. It’s a great mystery to me how Emily Nagle is not more appreciated than she is. Hers is a sensationally good performance among many fine performances. Its a truism but directors can only be as good as the actors they are working with and I’m indebted to my six in this beautiful play.
What has been the most challenging part of putting on the play?
Pitching the English comedy which can be very black, droll and dead pan and very unlike Irish comedy. Fortunately I love Joe Orton who was a master of this type of humour and it may surprise you to hear me say that my life long love affair with the plays of Harold Pinter have been helpful in this regard also. Its a great misconception about writers like Beckett and Pinter, perceived as diffiicult or enigmatic, who have, in fact, a wicked sense of humour.
What should audiences expect from the play?
An absolutely first rate night at the theatre with a play which is at turns funny and moving and full of insights memorably expressed. At the beginning of Act 2 the mother, Vi remarks that her children seem ungrateful and are focused on all the things that were wrong about their childhood and what they didn’t have. Vi enumerates some of these things and then says “I remember the time of your childhood and it seems to me that you don’t remember it because you weren’t there” – A line and an observation like that is worth the price of admission on its own. Don’t you think?
The Memory of Water opens at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght next Tuesday, 22nd October. Tickets are from €10. Booking: 01 4627477 or book online here!