Tag Archives: Caroline Langrishe

Three Sisters

THE MEMORY OF WATER

New Vic Theatre, Friday 7th March, 2014

 

The New Vic’s revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play is a beautifully presented, tightly acted production.  The sharpness of the writing has the characters throwing wit and sarcasm at each other – sometimes the barbed comments hit home and open cans of worms.

Three sisters of different ages and temperaments gather at their recently deceased mother’s house for the funeral.  Mum herself is still knocking around, appearing to middle daughter Mary in fantasy/dream/memory sequences full of recriminations and accusations.  Having a ghost in a play is as old as drama itself, of course, but the focus here is not on the apparition but the lingering pain of memory and things unspoken or old ground trodden over repeatedly.  As dead woman Vi, Lynn Farleigh cuts an elegant figure and is far from the aloof and distant figure Mary remembers.  The play has a theme of the unreliability of memory running through it like words through a stick of seaside rock – Mary is even a doctor with a patient suffering from trauma-induced amnesia, to strengthen this motif.  Each daughter remembers a different childhood, although none of them is accurate.  They trigger memories in each other but they are unsure who had the starring role in each misremembered incident.

It’s a very funny play.  As eldest and most bitter sister Teresa, Mary-Jo Randle is a mixture of strength and fragility, both of which are exacerbated by her intake of whisky. She is hilarious and compelling.  Caroline Langrishe is Mary, who speaks ‘properly’ as befits her profession, combining an authoritative tone with vulnerability.  She snipes defensively – her affair with married man Mike (Paul Opacic) comes under more strain with the impending funeral.  Langrishe, especially in her scenes with mother’s ghost, is excellent – but then, this is an excellent cast. Director Nikolai Foster gets multi-faceted performances from them and handles their contrasts and contradictions expertly.

Amanda Ryan is a treat as uninhibited youngest sister Catherine, prone to too much retail therapy, pot-smoking and continental boyfriends.  She brings her sisters down to her level and they become like three children bickering, or having a laugh dressing up in their mother’s frocks.  The men (Mary’s boyfriend and Teresa’s husband) are secondary figures but each has his moment.  Steven Pinder is first-rate as long-suffering Frank, bemused most of the time, until he reaches the end of his tether, and Paul Opacic does well to convince as attractive but unlikable two-timing Mike.

It all takes place on an attractive set by designer takis, atmospherically lit by Ben Cracknell, surrounded by snow and frost.  The coldness of the outside world is kept at bay by the warmth of family ties and the heat of family conflict.

Entertaining and emotive, The Memory of Water shows yet again the high quality of the work being produced at the New Vic.  Well worth the journey every time.

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A Tale of Atrocities

THE HANDYMAN
Malvern Theatres, Wednesday 24th October, 2012

Horrible, self-obsessed couple Julian and Cressida Field sit in their Sussex garden. He is barking business deals into his mobile; she is agonising over an essay for her degree in gender studies. They are also mourning the loss of family pet, Rosie the Cat. Their gardener and general factotum, Roman (or Romka, for short) is also grief-stricken and busies himself with fashioning a marker for the moggy’s grave.

Ronald Harwood’s play gets off to an amusing start. We are drawn to Romka, a man who speaks in a funny accent and looks like he’s stuffed with Werther’s Originals. Suddenly the lives of the Fields are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of detectives from the War Crimes squad of Scotland Yard. Lovely, cuddly Romka is suspected of the murder of 817 Jews in the Ukraine. Who would have thought?

Julian (Adrian Lukis) blows his top, an Englishman averse to having his castle invaded. Cressida (Caroline Langrishe) can’t believe a word of it. They hire a solicitor (Carolyn Backhouse) who though not Jewish herself, is married to one – surely that must work in the old man’s favour!

Romka (Timothy West in a measured, dignified performance) denies everything – he was only the cook, after all. As the play unfolds, Harwood keeps us guessing. It’s perhaps a case of mistaken identity. He was there but took no active part in the massacres… The detectives aren’t really characters but devices who through questioning enable information to come to light. We see testimony given on video by Steven Berkoff in a chilling turn as a cheerful monster and, very powerfully, by Vanessa Redgrave as a surviving eyewitness.

What the play leads up to is an examination of what the holocaust means today. Cressida is dismissive. “It’s ancient history,” she snaps. “Poor old men shouldn’t be hounded”. Further to that, the play warns against the danger of those who seek to deny these most terrible events ever took place. In a shocking outburst, we are shown the true meaning of “the personal is political” – the theme of Cressida’s university essay, and there are parallels drawn between the cat buried in the garden and the hundreds in a mass grave in some Ukrainian wood. The play is a reminder that the holocaust will always be relevant – those who consign it to the past or dismiss it as ‘the Jewish fantasy’ are destined to repeat it.

Director Joe Harmston handles the changing tones very well. The humour and the horrors each get their turn. Of the lot of them, only Romka comes across as a rounded character with warmth and humanity – the point being that it was humans that perpetrated the atrocities not some external ‘evil’ or influence that made them different from the rest of us. West’s performance is for the most part understated, and all the more compelling for it. Lukis and Langrishe are effective as the blowhard couple. Backhouse is attractive as the efficient solicitor who is pushed too far; and James Simmons and Anthony Houghton lend solid support as the investigating officers.

It’s a powerful piece, an important piece, stylishly presented and an intelligent and provocative contribution to the discussion. You emerge thinking more about the issues than the drama – in that sense at least, the drama does its job very well.