This weekend, the Nottingham New Theatre presents The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson. Impact talks to director Nick Hughes about the thought-provoking journey to the staging of this play.
Can you tell us a bit about the play?
It’s about three sisters, Mary, Teresa and Catherine who are dealing with the death of their mother and have come together to prepare for her funeral. The central theme of the play is memory; with all of the sisters having different memories of the same events and continually changing ideas about their mother Vi, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s. Vi comes back to one of the sisters, Mary, in her dreams and we’ve actually talked to people who have dealt with bereavement and found that this is quite common. There are three different dream sequences that move through denial, anger and acceptance, resulting in a very beautiful ending.
How have rehearsals been going so far?
Fantastic, really good. This is the second play that I’ve directed at the New Theatre and I also directed a play during my year abroad, but everything is a lot more professional here so it’s good to be back. With this show there’s been much more of a time restraint with rehearsals as we have only had five weeks. It’s a very real story, and with Vi having suffered from Alzheimer’s, I wanted it to work on it being as real as possible. I’ve got a fantastic, super talented cast and they have all brought ideas to rehearsals and have been developing their characters’ personalities. They’ve all come on very well.
How have you approached the sensitive subject of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s affects a lot of people. It’s not just those that have the disease, it’s those that have to care for them as well. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a full time job that sadly only has one end. I’ve got a personal connection with Alzheimer’s myself and several members of the cast have had experiences with it too. The script itself is fantastic for dealing with the subject, at one point Vi describes what it is like living with Alzheimer’s, but she does so in a beautiful way, emphasising the parts of you that still remain, the memories that she does still have.
We have tried to give the subject the level of respect it deserves. The Alzheimer’s Society actually came in to rehearsals and gave us a presentation and workshop about the disease. They were accompanied by a gentleman who was an ex-carer for someone who had suffered from the Alzheimer’s and he was able to give us a first-hand account of how hard it was. We learnt that people react in a different ways to the disease, some take on burdens whilst others distance themselves and it can break families apart. We wanted to create a fair and real portrayal of what is a devastating disease.
What made you choose to direct this play?
It’s a weird one, the play doesn’t seem very me. It’s about three sisters and their relationships and I’m kind of just a beardy guy. The first show I directed, A View from the Bridge, was seven years in the making as I first studied it at GCSE and loved it. I spent my year abroad reading a lot of different plays including the work of Beckett and Williams, however it was this play that really shone through for me. I like how real it is, how funny it is and then there is the personal connection as well. It’s really about the quality of the script and I felt like I could really do it well.
How have you dealt with using Performing Arts Studio (PAS) as the venue for the play?
It’s been a challenge. It was a worry because the space is completely different to the theatre. In the theatre I would have gone for a hyper-realistic bedroom set, but with the PAS it’s different. It’s such a bare space and I felt like we could do anything. We have made it very intimate, and the audience will get right up close and personal with the action. It’s a real story that affects everyone and it will feel as if it’s happening to them, I hope. Using PAS has been challenging for the get in because we are restricted in when we can use it and we have to be out by 10.30pm, so it’s meant much earlier nights! It’s been a struggle but we’ve made the most of it.
What has been the most challenging part of putting on the play?
A lot of things. Maybe the time frame I would say. It’s been a real time commitment and we have been rehearsing pretty much every day since the play was cast. Being a fourth year law student and doing this has not been easy. However, spending so much time together has made us come really close together as a cast. It has been hectic, tense and a little bit stressful.
What should audiences expect from the play?
They can expect a heartfelt, beautiful story with stunning actors, an incredible script and some really beautiful, tender moments. There are aspects of comedy and tragedy with some real tear jerking moments, I actually find Vi’s scene very hard to watch. It really is a beautiful story, lots of bad and depressing things happen but it is very sweet and parts of it are actually hilarious. Hopefully the audience will be able to connect with all the characters. They’re just such real people.
Interview by Catherine Cunningham
See The Memory of Water at The Nottingham New Theatre (currently performing in the Performing Arts Studio) from Saturday 10th – Tuesday 13th November.