Shelagh Stephenson’s play about three sisters torn apart, then brought together again by the death of their elderly mother, is not a comedy tackled lightly. Having produced 2012’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches”, also at Chapel off Chapel, producer Darren Mort obviously grew acutely aware of what can go wrong when heavy subject matter, however opaquely addressed, is undertaken in anything but the fashion of highly disciplined and well-budgeted unit. It shows: “The Memory of Water” is fine-tuned, well-oiled and exceptionally executed piece of theatre. Having cellist Grace Gilkerson perform the mood-setting music live on stage was a special stroke of magic.
Director Richard Sarell’s acting sensitivities are clearly on display. Actors move about within the set, listen and interact with each other and aren’t afraid to show their backs. The realism he achieves is as funny and heart-wrenching, sometimes both at the same time, as in real life.
However, no director is complete without his cast, and it’s here that 3 Big Men’s production earns its highest praise: Ana Mitsiakis and Carissa McAllen, as the two elder sisters, take center stage as the weight of organizing a funeral bears down on their already trouble lives, and both performers are subtle, connected, and more truthful with a whisper than many an actor is with a holler. As the youngest sister Karla Hillam renders a truthfully written character with such selfless honesty, her performance can barely be judged. It simply must be believed.
In this most beautiful of Melbourne’s venues, Mort and Co. have done what far too many theatre-makers around Melbourne don’t even seem to attempt; read a gorgeously written script, and delved into it, rather than dragging it out and displaying it. The difference is, the audience is given something candid to witness, rather than some collection of showman’s techniques on obvious display. This is theatre the way it should be. Truthful to the point that we forget we’re seeing a play.
This is real actors, with a real director, doing real work.
Review by Max Davine
Editor Crystal Cororcher