Martin Sherman's Rose is already an award-winning production that received widespread critical acclaim during its sell-out runs at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, and the Park Theatre, London. Now at the Ambassadors Theatre for only 28 performances, that success looks set to be repeated.

A directorial triumph

The dramatic potential and appeal of a one-woman show is already on full display just a few streets away, where Sheridan Smith is brilliantly playing a sold-out run of Shirley Valentine. Both plays explore how a woman deals with the hand she is dealt in life, yet they could not be further apart in terms of content: the one focussed on disaffected domesticity, the other confronting some of the greatest tragedies and population movements of the twentieth century.

Dame Maureen Lipman once again assumes the weighty mantle of the eponymous Rose. As with Shirley Valentine, it’s appropriate that the play takes the name of the person around whom everything revolves. Rose is the heart of this monologue and, in a directorial triumph for Scott Le Crass, nothing detracts from Lipman’s presence, centre-stage, as she sits on a bench throughout two acts, using only arm gestures, head turns, looks and the occasional leg movements to reinforce her words. There’s a perfectly logical reason for this staging: Rose is observing shiva, not just for one deceased person but seemingly for an endless stream of people who keep passing away. But it’s still a brave move to keep her there and it takes someone of Lipman’s story-telling calibre to pull it off. She is so immersed in the character it’s hard at times to remember that this is not her own story; the informal, conversational style of delivery is such that we might be guests in her home where she is simply relating her life story. If she weren’t devotionally tied to the bench, you might expect her to get up and make us all a cup of tea. But then as a Jewish woman it is her story, not in the detail but in the common inheritance of a persecuted people, of families, all of whom know the meaning of suffering and the many who tried to forge a new existence in strange land.

The same is true for Sherman who grounded this work of fiction in his own family’s movements that began when they left Yaltushkav, the shtetl that was then in Russia and is now in Ukraine. He could never have imagined that his throw-away line about that country would resonate with such force nearly a quarter of a century after he wrote it, or that the plight of refugees would be a topic of heated political debate, nor indeed that wars and pogroms would be destroying town and villages in the same way the Nazis razed Yaltushkav to the ground, leaving only a memory. But it’s memories that sustain cultures and communities and people like Rose, who can look back with tears and laughter at events that moved her family from mainland Europe to almost settle in Palestine (before it became Israel), only to be put back on the boat and transported to England, before finally starting yet another life in the USA.

La Crass and Lipman demonstrate that you don’t need to do much to a great script and gripping story except respect its integrity, give weight to its words, and tell it with sincerity. But this is theatre and there’s a set, sound and lighting. Working collaboratively as always with the director and actor, no one in that team has lost sight of the centrality of the character and the story; nothing detracts and all elements support and enhance. Designer David Shields’ abstract diamond platform, whose point reaches out to the audience, is reminiscent of the geometric layout of Chana Gitla Kowalska Shtetl, illustrated in the programme The two white walls, meeting at an acute angle, provide a screen for a rainbow of plain, coloured projections from Lighting Designer Jane Lalljee. These evoke moods but avoid the temptation to be representational, appearing and fading like Rose’s memories as an accompaniment to the narrative. This subtle, suggestive approach is borne out in a delicately understated sound design by Juian Starr. What a joy it is to have sounds in the background, at times almost imperceptible, that pay homage to the actor’s role and the supremacy of the text as opposed to drowning both out. Starr aligns his soundscape with events in the story, but again the low level of volume reinforces the idea of past happenings that are distant memories.

Towards the end, events move quickly and life in the New World, with its hotel businesses and gangsters, together with tales of her son’s life on a kibbutz and her daughter’s overtly political forays, is portrayed in stark contrast to what has gone before. It’s another chapter, which could be a play in itself, but it’s also a reminder of how people are forced to move on and take life in their stride.

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The Blurb

The award-winning, critically acclaimed production of Martin Sherman’s Rose transfers to the Ambassador’s Theatre for 28 performances, from Tuesday 23rd of May after sell-out runs at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester, and The Park Theatre, London once again starring Maureen Lipman.

“A performance of unassailable greatness” What’s on Stage

Olivier Award winning, Maureen Lipman has performed with The National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and has starred in innumerable West End productions including, Messiah, Wonderful Town, ReJoice, Glorious, Oklahoma and Daytona. For the last five years she has been delighting television audiences as Evelyn Plummer on Coronation Street.

Written by award-winning Martin Sherman whose other plays include Bent, Messiah, A MadHouse in Goa as well as When She Danced, the films Alive and Kicking and Mrs Henderson Presents as well as the Broadway Musical The Boy From Oz.

“A masterpiece” The Spectator

Rose, a woman whose tumultuous journey through anarchic times takes her from the devastation of Nazi- occupied Europe to the allure of the American dream. Through the life of one woman Rose tells the story of a century where everything changed except the violence of the strong against the weak.

“Funny, moving and wise” Daily Mail

The original production of Rose was produced at the National Theatre and on Broadway in 1999. It is perhaps even more relevant today, with the plight of refugees and allegations of antisemitism continuing to dominate the news. This powerful production is a moving reminder of the harrowing events that shaped the last century.

FIVE STARS Metro/What’s on Stage/ Upcoming/London Theatre Reviews/Theatre Weekly 

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