The Push and Pull of Family Played out on Stage

By Gill Canning

Memory of Water
Michala Banas, Jo Downing and Madeleine Jones star in the play. Image Credit: Prudence Upton
The more we try to break free of sibling ties, the more we may find ourselves entangled.

Following their mother’s death, sisters Mary, Theresa and Catherine have assembled in the family home to clear out her bedroom and plan her funeral. The set consists of a very feminine 1970s bedroom done out in rose and gold, complete with damask bedspread and pink hope chest. Despite their shared upbringing, the sisters are not especially close. It is clear that they remember the events of their childhood and teen years differently.

As well, each of them is facing relationship challenges. At 39, Mary thinks she might be pregnant to her married lover, Mike. Theresa’s husband Frank is about to walk away from the business they run together. And youngest sister Catherine has just been dumped over the phone by her lover, Javier. 

The sisters’ late mother Vi also ‘appears’ in the play, bringing to life the character with whom each shared a very different relationship. 

The entire cast is committed and portrays their character well. However, Catherine’s breakdown upon being betrayed by her Spanish boyfriend was to me the most gripping scene  of the play. “I don’t want to be on my own. I can’t do it. It’s fucking lonely and I can’t bear it,” she wails. Her grief and desperation at the way her life is turning out is visceral. No family member makes a move to comfort her, making her isolation even more apparent.

True to Life

I have two sisters and the friend I took with me to see The Memory of Water has three. We both related to much of what the play had to say about family and not being really understood by those you’ve literally known your whole life.

As director Rachel Chant says, the play is about “the inevitable push and pull of familial relationships and how, often, the more we try to break free of these binds, the more we find ourselves drawn back in.” Or as Frank warns Mike at one stage: “You don’t want to marry into this lot, it’s worse than the Borgias.”

The Memory of Water certainly has some laughs but the overarching theme to me was loneliness and the laughs, when they come, are often black. 


The Memory of Water

Ensemble Theatre, Sydney

Until 25 November, 2023


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