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Review: ROSE, Park Theatre

Dame Maureen Lipman delivers a masterclass in storytelling

Review: ROSE, Park Theatre Review: ROSE, Park Theatre When Martin Sherman's one-woman play, Rose, premiered at The National Theatre in 1999, we lived in very different times. The biggest problem for the world appeared to be the Millennium Bug, but we soon found out that it wouldn't be malfunctioning computers that pulled planes out of clear blue skies.

Jews knew better - history demands that the bag in the hall is always packed and nothing in the 21st century suggests otherwise. Very fine people (according to the former US President) marched with torches in Charlottesville, Jewish schools in London need enhanced security and the Labour Party has tied itself in knots over the boundaries of antisemitism.

So it's never the wrong time to be reminded of how we got here, particularly by Dame Maureen Lipman, a constant presence on stage and screen throughout our lives. It is a mark of her range and her ubiquity that I had last seen her in pantomime at New Wimbledon Theatre - the woman surely is a marvel, if a little too spiky and interesting to attach the (somewhat patronising) label 'National Treasure'.

Rose is alone on stage, sitting shiva to mourn a girl shot in appalling circumstances, the true horror of which we learn only at the end of the play. Now 80 years old, she reflects on the others for whom she has performed the ritual and, in so doing, tells both a personal and a more universal Jewish story, laced with comedy and tragedy.

We learn of the Ukrainian shtetl in which she grew up with her saintly mother and older brother and younger sister; of the pogroms at the hands of Cossacks; of the escape to Warsaw. Still a teenager, love is gained and lost as the Nazis committed their appalling crimes; we hear about British obstructions placed in her path as she tried to reach Palestine in the dying days of the Mandate; and of a new life with a new husband in the USA.

For many, the narrative arc will be familiar if a reminder of the resilience of humanity in the face of terror and tragedy. Also familiar will be the always welcome presence of that specific Jewish humour, liberally sprinkled with the unique bite of Yiddish vernacular. But the monologue's impact is more than the sum of its parts.

Lipman is 76 herself now and one feels that the emotion she invests in Rose is more than just her peerless acting, that the tears she wipes away are more than merely a response to the director's demands. Perhaps some of that sadness is a response to the turmoil of the past, but also that of today. Like many who have lived a long life on the Left, she has spoken of her sense of political homelessness and has been subjected to the wrath of social media as a consequence, exacerbated by her refusal to fudge her views on Israel.

The emotions run in her performance (and in the house) not just for the unique suffering of her people in the 20th century, but also for the apparent inability (or the stubborn unwillingness) to resolve the issues that still cause bloodshed and hate in the 21st. Rose herself describes her sitting shiva for the nine-year old Nora el-Kareem as no more than a gesture, but it ties the violence on the West Bank to her own daughter's death at the hands of a Nazi 60 years earlier.

Not all the stories are political - we hear of love affairs, of business opportunities seized, of the restless minds of a restless people, the wellspring of the jokes. And, across well over two hours, Lipman's command of pacing, timing and mood never falters in a show that spans decades and continents but is never less than intimate and personal.

Rose is at Park Theatre until 15 October

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Regional Awards

From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)

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