Olivier Award winner Dame Maureen Lipman stars as the eponymous heroine of Rose, Martin Sherman’s play about an elderly Jewish woman looking back over her long life. An epic tale of trauma and survival, at turns heartbreaking and joyful, the play is a layered herstory, taking us from young lust in Warsaw to escape from Europe to success as a hotelier in Atlantic City and finally to her 80th year where we meet her.
First staged over 20 years ago, the play remains dispiritingly relevant, dealing as it does with racism, violence and grief. As the child of immigrants to the UK, I was moved by Rose’s exploration of the enduring sense of loss felt by those who are violently forced from their homes and the ideological chasms that can arise between them and later generations born far from the motherland.
But this is not a history lesson. Lipman’s solo performance brilliantly weaves gripping drama, touching on the horrors and dislocations of the Jewish experience of the twentieth century, including “what was done to survive” in the Warsaw sewers, with surreal humour as she recounts being possessed by a Dybbuk, the spirit of her dead lover. Lipman’s portrayal of grief is a visceral, full body experience, bleeding across time, geographic and religious boundaries as she sits shiva for murdered Jewish and Arab children alike. At the same time, she leans into the concept of the unreliable narrator as Rose’s shocking experiences lead her to doubt her memories, was that her life or a scene from Fiddler on the Roof?
Rose has transferred to the Ambassadors Theatre and playing until 18 June 2023.