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Rose by Martin Sherman at Park Theatre

At a time when there is much focus on the long life of HM Queen Elizabeth II, there’s something about listening to a longitudinal narrative. Rose (Dame Maureen Lipman) talks about her childhood, her parents and her siblings. The audience is introduced to significant others, to children and to grandchildren, in a storyline that is distinctly Jewish and yet distinctly non-religious: Rose, raised in the Jewish faith, is eighty in the ‘present day’ – inverted commas mine, because the play premiered in 1999, which makes lines such as, “Sovereignty! The Ukraine! Why would anyone want it?” spoken in 2022 rather more forthright than playwright Martin Sherman could have reasonably foreseen.

Rose by Martin Sherman at Park TheatreShe had some interesting thoughts about God and the extent to which the Almighty directly impacts people’s lives for the better, if indeed He does at all. It is never, however, irreverent or Torah-bashing, but rather a no-holds-barred train of thought. There’s the well-trodden narrative of the manner in which Jews, or to use contemporary vernacular, those who were identified as Jews, were uprooted or even murdered during World War Two. But it is what happens in the years after VE Day that proves to be just as harrowing – Rose’s calm and sanguine state starts to become more ferocious when talking about her attempt to emigrate to the Holy Land. Rose took the view that “the British had won Palestine on the Monopoly board, you see, and they were trying to hold on both to it and their dignity. Their foreign minister was named Bevin and he was the goy (that is, non-Jew) from hell.

There never seems to be a dull moment in Rose’s family life, and thus never a dull moment in this play. It is, however, entirely plausible, at least to me: there is always going to be someone who has a reason to disagree with someone else, and it’s the details in this monologue that help maintain interest. Who isn’t speaking to whom, and why? What are the different political ideologues that successive generation have? Why is it that when Rose finds herself at the theatre watching a play “about teenagers in the Warsaw ghetto” the younger members of the audience found the dialogue in Yiddish hilarious, yet she found it poignant?

In line with many single-performer productions, the audience is only subjected to a single perspective, and it is easy to wonder what the other characters spoken about in some detail in the show would want to say if only they were given the right of reply. Lipman’s Rose sits, on a backless bench, to tell her story, reassuringly taking regular sips of water (and even at one point some medication), and the production relies very heavily on the art of storytelling, with sparing and subtle sound effects and lighting changes.

By way of her own admission that she can’t always recall whether she is recounting a memory or, say, a motion picture from back in the day, the monologue brings into question how reliable a narrator Rose is. Unusually, it paradoxically increases the character’s credibility – the audience knows to take certain details with a pinch of salt, but the play still gets its salient points across. It’s not all about misery and the struggle to triumph over adversity: there are, thinking back on it, quite a few laughs in this engaging piece of theatre that is as delightful as it is deep.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Lipman is Rose – a woman shaped by her history. She offers an intimate and, at times, humorous account of the 20th century and its complicated heritage. This thought-provoking production acts as a caution, highlighting the importance of unity in the face of adversity and the need to recognise the suffering of others.

Thomas Hopkins, Michael Quinn, Guy Chapman, Park Theatre and Hope Mill Theatre in association with Creative House Productions, Ruthie Henshall & Paul Schofield present the revival of Rose, by Martin Sherman.

PLAYWRIGHT | MARTIN SHERMAN
DIRECTOR | SCOTT LE CRASS
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER | DAVID SHIELDS
LIGHTING DESIGNER | JANE LALLJEE
SOUND DESIGNER & COMPOSER | JULIAN STARR
PRODUCER & GENERAL MANAGER | GUY CHAPMAN
PRODUCER & GENERAL MANAGER | THOMAS HOPKINS
ASSOCIATE GENERAL MANAGER | CLIVE CHENERY

With Dame Maureen Lipman

PARK200
https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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