Three sisters; Teresa, Mary and Catherine, come together before their mother’s celebration that she is dead, each haunted by their own demons; in which the play focuses more on how each sister deals with the death and how it directly affects them. The three each have different memories of the same events, causing constant bickering about whose memories are true. As the three women get together after years of separation, all their hidden lies and self-betrayals are about to reach the surface.
A theme of the play is, eponymously, memory. The sisters’ memories interact with each other, and show that despite synchronicites of time and place they cannot agree upon one unifying experience. This is echoed in Vi’s final speech, which portrays Alzheimer’s disease as being adrift among a series of islands of your own identity. The sisters drift around their own islands of memory, unable to agree on one particular point, and yet are unified by their familial bond (Vi comments that “some things stay in your bones”).
The play exhibits the trinities of time, place and character present in a tragedy, as the play seems to take place at one time, in one space and without change in the characters’ outlooks. However, because the comedy here is so often interspersed with the tragic it may be said to be a tragic-comedy.
The play was adapted by Stephenson for the 2002 film, Before You Go, directed by Lewis Gilbert, starring, Julie Walters, John Hannah, and Joanne Whalley.