Tag Archives: Laura Rogers

“The Memory of Water” at the Hampstead Theatre

As part of the “Hampstead Originals” season, celebrating significant pieces that started off at the venue, this new production reminds us why Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play is popular. A satisfying comedy drama and a gift to performers, The Memory of Water has plenty to please.

Within the scenario of three sisters together before their mother’s funeral, Stephenson injects a surprising amount of comedy with a superb ear for dialogue and strong characters. Take your pick from doctor Mary, health food entrepreneur Teresa or the troubled, younger, Catherine. Each has an appeal. And there are three top notch performances to enjoy – from Laura Rogers, Lucy Black and Carolina Main – each a careful detailed study.

The Memory of Water at the Hampstead Theatre
Lucy Black, Carolina Main and Laura Rogers

There are good jokes, inappropriate reactions and a down to earth humour that is great fun. Stephenson examines sibling relations with confidence and risqué insight. Meanwhile the theme of memory proves stimulating (if not particularly subtle when it comes to Mary’s research into amnesia) as the sisters’ recollections of their past, and their mother, diverge.

After the interval, The Memory of Water gets bolder and darker. Painful truths and shocking secrets are revealed. The grief within the play becomes multi-layered. And we start to take Catherine’s health problems more seriously. Harsh words are spoken and the action is frequently gripping.

It is with quieter moments that director Alice Hamilton’s command of the play is clearest. While the comedy is strong (with Catherine’s tantrums, Teresa’s neurosis and Mary’s deadpan lines) it’s the pacing of more dramatic scenes that really impresses. Ever alert to the space the text needs, and aided by Johanna Town’s lighting design, Hamilton guides the audience magnificently. Given Sam Yates’ success with the venue’s previous show, Hampstead Theatre is clearly a home for directing talent.

The Memory of Water at the Hampstead Theatre
Kulvinder Ghir and Adam James

While there’s no doubt that The Memory of Water is a play focused on women, and their relationships with one another, Stephenson deals just as well with the men we meet. Indeed, even the girls’ father, long dead, is a vivid presence. Again, there are great roles for Teresa’s husband and Mary’s married lover that Kulvinder Ghir and Adam James do well with.

A final strength with The Memory of Water comes from the ghostly role of the girls’ mother, Vi. Played by Lizzy McInnerny, with a particularly fine study of her character’s accent, her interactions with Rogers were my favourite scenes. Vi is far more than a foil for her daughter: gifted her own voice, showing us a previous generation, and adding a twist to what we have seen. Vi is funny and hurt while her maternal legacy and suffering from Alzheimer’s takes us to the heart of the play’s theme. Stephenson’s description of the cruel disease, that Vi feels “broken into islands”, is brilliant and moving. As Vi’s influence on her daughters becomes clearer, McInnerny becomes magisterial. Despite Mary’s request, Vi is “never” really going to leave her daughter; like the play, she is a woman to remember.

Until 16 October 2021

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photos by Helen Murray

“A Lie of the Mind” at the Southwark Playhouse

Sam Shepard’s award-winning 1985 play is a slow-burning, haunting family drama. After a brutal act of domestic violence, Beth is left brain damaged and her husband Jake unhinged. Their families, aiming to care for them, become increasingly irrational, unlocking the play’s momentum and considerable dramatic power.

Gethin Anthony and Alexandra Dowling acquit themselves well as Jake and Beth. These are difficult roles and the temptation for shrillness isn’t fully controlled. Shepard is averse to sentimentality and makes it a struggle to empathise with these damaged figures. Nonetheless, Anthony and Dowling convey their characters as repositories of cumulative pain.

Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling
Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling

The couple’s siblings have problems too. Initially overshadowed by Jake’s instability, his brother and sister, played by Michael Fox and Laura Rogers, do well to build their roles, acting as foils for the increasing oddity around them. Meanwhile, Robert Lonsdale gives a cracking performance as Beth’s consoling and then avenging brother. Caught up in a maelstrom of metaphor, Lonsdale gives the role clarity.

Best of all are the older characters, portrayed with conviction and welcome humour by a skilled trio so that the play’s dated gender relations create fewer snags here. Shepard is too sophisticated to blame the parents for the sins or woes of the children, but a legacy of emotional repression is clear. Nancy Crane and Kate Fahy play the mothers – far too keen to have their kids back at home and infantilised. John Stahl gives a strong performance as Beth’s irascible father, whose tirade against ageing is one of the play’s finest moments.

Marshalling all this – and it’s a lot – is James Hillier’s direction. Some of Shepard’s dark humour isn’t transmitted and a firmer hand on histrionics with a little more work on accents would be welcome. But Hillier has created a stylish show, aided by live music from James Marples. The production appreciates Shepard’s extremes, giving his Americana a back seat to examine the topical subject of mental health. It’s a solid revival of a fascinating play.

Until 27 May 2017

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

“A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur” at the Print Room

Even a cursory knowledge of Tennessee Williams’ women raises expectations of this rarely performed play, which has no fewer than four female characters. A group of middle-aged singletons gather in cheap accommodation on a hot afternoon in St Louis, so you can imagine how the writer of Blanche DuBois and Maggie the Cat might go to town on them. But the most intriguing thing here is Williams’ restraint.

Debbie Chazen, Julia Watson and Hermione Gulliford
Debbie Chazen, Julia Watson and Hermione Gulliford

Bodey is a mother hen, portrayed brilliantly by Debbie Chazen, who makes the character easy to root for as she clucks over her roommate Dorothea (Laura Rogers), who has fallen for her no-good boss. They are joined by their depressed neighbour, a difficult role, mostly in German, that Julia Watson does well with. And paying an urgent visit is Dorothea’s colleague Helena, a “well dressed snake” and snob, seeing “absolute desolation” in the homely apartment. If the waspish lines, delivered impeccably by Hermione Gulliford, please the crowd, there’s also a touching monologue about her loneliness. True, these women have agendas. But they aren’t all devious or downright delusional (a common Williams trait), with hopes, dreams and a self-awareness that are entirely down to earth.

Laura Rogers
Laura Rogers

The production appreciates what might even be called a prosaic streak. Director Michael Oakley has crafted a tight domestic drama, with grandeur coming from Fotini Dimou’s impressive set and the appropriate shabby-chicness of the venue itself. Dorothea comes closest to a standard Williams heroine: we are warned she has a “Southern Belle complex”. Whether Rogers’ performance is wary enough of this is debatable. The play’s anticlimactic revelations and speculation on “the long run” (the future obsesses these women) may seem like small beans from a writer who usually dealt with higher stakes, but this play has a quiet appeal all its own.

Until 7 October 2016

www.the-print-room-org

Photos by Catherine Ashmore

“The 39 Steps” at the Criterion Theatre

The British love a little light self-deprecation. And jolly good we are at it, too. With an adaptation masterminded by Patrick Barlow (of National Theatre of Brent fame) of John Buchan’s 1914 boy’s-own spy thriller, The 39 Steps is full of clichés ripe for poking fun at and has earned plenty of awards for doing just that: the stiff upper lips, sexism and jingoism of the past have been making audiences at The Criterion theatre rock with laughter for the last five years.

The stage show is as much a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film as it is to the original story. Scenes are re-enacted, including the famous escape on the Forth Bridge, and, if that sounds impossible, other movies and a cameo from the great director are thrown in as well. But this is pure theatre – laughing at its limitations while showing the power of the medium. The inventiveness of a hardworking cast of four, minimal props and faux improv are something to celebrate.

Actress Maria Aitken directs and makes The 39 Steps a joy for its absurdly versatile cast – the actors even get to draw upon all that drama school training pretending to be trees and rocks. Rufus Wright is the dashing Richard Hannay, who goes from worrying about his pencil moustache to running away from a dastardly spy ring. Laura Rogers plays all the women admirably, especially Annabella Schmidt, the spy that Hannay takes home and offers kippers to. The other 135 roles are performed by just two men: Dermot Canavan (having great fun in drag) and, on the performance I saw, the understudy James Hurn who put on such a jolly good show that my only quibble is that he didn’t get the extra bow he deserved.

The 39 Steps isn’t for everyone. Steer clear if you hate slapstick and be prepared for some awful puns. But here’s a tip – the show is great for visitors, even those that might have English as a second language. The humour’s broad appeal means Johnny Foreigner will be able to laugh along as you show you’re a true Brit by laughing at yourself. In fact, seeing this show is practically a patriotic duty – so come on chaps!

www.love39steps.com

Written 13 September 2011 for The London Magazine