Theatre review:Rose

Maureen Lipman gives a mesmerising performance in this online monologue


The grey blouse — loose, well cut and with a sweep of pastel-pink chiffon over the shoulders, would look good on anyone. And so it does on Maureen Lipman’s elegant octogenarian Rose. Yet consciously or not, something about the faint pinstripe hints at a particular personal history; of concentration camp garb even, though in Rose’s case the full horror of her Holocaust took place in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Granted, this observation may be a case of over-interpretation on my part. But it is informed by a memory from years ago when I was a young press photographer — not the usual precursor to theatre reviewing, admittedly.

I had been despatched to cover the opening of a Holocaust exhibition that included Auschwitz clothing. Standing next to the exhibit was a survivor chatting happily to other guests. It was only later as two sets of stripes emerged through the developing liquid (this was in the days of the darkroom) that I realised that survivor and exhibit wore strikingly similar outfits. There was even a moment before the image had fully developed when it was not possible to see whose stripes belonged to whom.

Martin Sherman’s 1999 play allows for that which is carried silently to be said out loud. And in this streamable online version, made for Hope Mill Theatre, Lipman says it in a convincing Americanised Ukrainian drawl.

Under Scott Le Crass’s close-up camera direction it’s a mesmerising performance that inhabits Rose’s various lives: the innocence of the girl who joined her brother in Warsaw where she married and had a child; the bewilderment of being caught up in the Nazi occupation, and of being hollowed by the murder of her family.

Sherman has the rare ability to write about the most harrowing of experiences without any whiff of dramatic exploitation. Yet the play is not only concerned about the past and memory. Where Rose’s monologue turns to her increasingly sceptical relationship to Israel, it feels very much in the present.

Her first-hand account of Britain’s treatment of Holocaust survivors as they attempt to enter Palestine has echoes with today’s callous attitude towards migrants. Yet where Rose describes her own views about Israeli policy towards Arabs, which she says lacks the empathy Jews should feel as a result of their own persecution, there is a sense of the author having his own axe to grind.

It’s a perfectly valid view of course. But even with Lipman in the role, the result is that the mask slips, revealing Rose to be nine parts a superbly observed study of a survivor, but one part political playwright.

Rose is online until September 28, details here 

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