In the bedroom set on the Hampstead Theatre stage, three grown-up sisters are arguing or is it bickering? Even that becomes a point of contention. It will be a scene familiar to many with siblings, the shared upbringing that can be a comfort but equally provide all the right triggers to arguments.
The three sisters in Shelagh Stephenson's play The Memory of Water - Teresa (Lucy Black), Mary (Laura Rogers) and Catherine (Carolina Main) - have gathered at their mother's home ahead of her funeral.
Teresa, the oldest, runs a herbal remedy business with her solid husband Frank (Kulvinder Ghir), always organising and making lists but tired of taking all the responsibility.
Mary is a doctor and having an affair with married TV doctor Mike (Adam James). She's the 'successful' one, perceived as the golden child who had an easy ride. But she's haunted by her mother Vi's resentful ghost (Lizzie McInnerny) and finding something from her past.
Catherine is the youngest. Over from Spain, where she lives with the latest in a string of unfaithful boyfriends. She's a hypochondriac, irresponsible ("broke doesn't mean you can't buy stuff") and feels overlooked, which makes her self-centred and needy.
The superb script is compellingly brought to life by the cast in a way that body language and tone add rich layers of meaning to what is being said. The sisters verbally spar, poking at each other's resentments, slights and hurts.
There is humour in this well-observed battle and subtle jibes as more of their childhood and relationships with their mother are revealed. Although each has a different take on the shared experiences, memories get confused, transposed, and jumbled, adding fuel to the bickering.
It becomes increasingly ironic how they all slowly reveal some of their mother's characteristics, which they despised. And this is despite a determination to be different.
Loving sibling moments are there too, but if I were to have one minor grumble, it would be that there are too few to break up what can start to feel a smidge like relentless bickering.
Otherwise, there is plenty in the lives of these sisters, their pasts, presents and futures to drive the narrative.
I'm giving The Memory of Water ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. It's 2 and a half hours long with an interval and is at the Hampstead Theatre until 16 October.
If you've seen The Memory of Water, I'd love to know what you thought in the comments.
Other stuff you might like:
I did my first Instagram Live interview recently and spoke to theatre and opera PR Chloe Nelkin about the creativity that came out of the last 18 difficult months for theatres and how this will shape theatre in the future. You can read about our conversation (or watch the replay) here.