We’ve covered some of Martin Sherman’s work previously – the playwright is best known for seminal show Bent, about the persecution of gay men during the Holocaust; we covered the National Theatre’s one-off Pride production of that show, starring Russell Tovey, back in 2016. We also reviewed the UK premiere of his queer play Gently Down The Stream when it opened at the Park Theatre in 2018.
Rose is something entirely different – a monologue detailing the life of one Jewish woman through the 20th Century. It’s an epic journey, as the eponymous Rose is displaced during the Second World War; we follow her journey as she tries to reach Palestine, only to end up in Miami via Atlantic City. There’s a lot to get through in two and a half hours.
Maureen Lipman is compelling in the role. It’s a simple, static production – Lipman delivers the monologue seated on a bench, occasionally sipping water or popping a pill for her health (or, on one occasion, mixing the unpleasant-tasting pills with some much more palatable ice cream). At times it feels like something of an endurance test – while her character seemingly has a breathing problem and has been advised to sip water regularly to help with this, speaking for such a long time looks exhausting and it feels like the pauses for water are necessary. Lipman is an impressive storyteller and helps bring out the humour in the text which offers much-needed balance in the context of such serious matter.
This is a show which demands absolute concentration from its audience; the pace is relentlessly slow, and with nothing much happening visually, it sometimes feels like hard work to follow exactly what’s happening all the time. This is especially true in the second act where the narrative becomes somewhat fanciful, with different husbands in various cities and changing careers. Important details are often dropped into the mix quite subtly – with so much going on, the sheer amount of information can feel a little overwhelming at times. Perseverance pays off, however; this is a story worth seeing through to its conclusion, even if getting there doesn’t always feel as straightforward as it should.
We enjoyed our evening with Rose – it is rather lengthy for a one-woman show and at times it’s not an easy watch, but Maureen Lipman is a superb storyteller and this feels like a timely revival. Well worth a visit.
GAY TIMES gives Rose – 4/5
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