“Lipman gives an exemplary performance in control and poise”
Maureen Lipman shows herself to be a consummate storyteller in Martin Sherman’s epic turn of the millennium one-woman play. Directed by Scott Le Crass, Lipman sits almost unmoving for two and a half hours as she relates the life-story of Rose, an eighty-year-old Jewish survivor of the previous century’s turmoil.
Rose sits purposefully on a wooden bench, centre stage, observing shiva; for whom we do not initially know. With a minimal set (Designer David Shields), two walls meet behind where she sits. Understated light changes – red, purple, lilac (Lighting Designer Jane Lalljee) and subtle background music and sound effects – music from an accordion, train noise, flames of the burning Warsaw ghetto, the soft thud of a rifle shot (Sound Designer and Composer Julian Starr) – reflect and illustrate Rose’s recollections.
Rose chats to us, mixing the prosaic with the sensational. For Lipman, it is a great feat of concentration and stamina. For the audience too there is a lot to listen to; every word seems important.
Rose’s remarkable story takes her from a pogrom in her native Ukraine, to the Warsaw ghetto, into Germany, and onto a barely seaworthy ship heading for Palestine pursued by the British Navy. Along the way she recounts her loves and losses including that of her first husband and the shooting of her only daughter. Finally escaping a refugee train heading to ‘nowhere’ in Europe, Rose enters America.
Rose admits herself to being an unreliable narrator. Does her recollection of Cossacks ransacking the family home come from a real childhood memory or a scene from Fiddler on the Roof? Despite the deep subject, there is much humour in the telling. Some comments are genuinely funny, some poignant, some ironic. And when Lipman lands a joke her eyes twinkle and a wry smile shares the humour with the audience. Only once does Lipman raise her voice above the conversational and the scene is the most impactful for that.
It is no wonder that the second half of the play cannot keep up with the pace as Rose embarks on a new life in America with husband number two, who himself cannot live up to the memories of lost husband number one. Perhaps one domestic story here is a trifle long and some direction in the narrative is lost. Until, that is, members of Rose’s family become involved in hostilities on the West Bank which stir up feelings in Rose that her life has been one long conflict. And thus her need to sit shiva. And to share her story.
Maureen Lipman gives an exemplary performance in control and poise. There are no histrionics, her power lies in her natural timing, use of silence, and her ability to hold the audience to her every word and every breath. A masterclass in acting.
“Ambiguous and challenging, “Lovefool” has its imperfections. But Winters is mesmerising in a performance that is faultless.”
Towards the end of “Lovefool”, Grace – played by the intensely charismatic Kristin Winters – hovers at the edge of the auditorium and directs a few merciless questions at the audience. Without giving away the exact nature of them, it becomes clear from the reactions that the realities of depression, abuse, suicide, anxiety, fear or self-loathing are a hair’s breadth away from each and every one of us. They walk among us. And in just under an hour, Winters leads us right into the throng, on a journey that takes many wrong turnings. It sounds dismal, yet the vicarious sense of healing derived from Grace’s self-examination is exhilarating. And often funny.
Grace is looking for love. But what is love? It’s a question echoed in a thousand pop songs, none of which help Grace at all. She dances to the rhythms but can’t bear the lyrics. She sees her shrink, goes to confession, and devours dating apps and red wine in equal abundance. She thinks she finds love in an Icelandic singer but, when the alcoholic haze disperses, he’s just another figurative fist to endure. Written and directed by Gintare Parulyte, this one-woman show is initially charged with humour, even if a little dark. It might not be telling us anything particularly new but there is a freshness to the expressions and a sharpness to the language that strengthens the text. There is a Larkinesque quality as she talks of the “broken families we run away from and then create”.
The authenticity of the performance is tinged with strokes of satire. A dig at a sexist director pinpoints the gender inequality in the industry, while David Gaspar’s video projections parody the sex education programmes we all remember. While Winters successfully interacts with these, her imaginary characters and with the audience, the overall staging is haphazard and disjointed. Perhaps this is intentionally disconcerting. Anyone who has spent time with someone with OCD will be on familiar ground. Winters convincingly portrays a damaged soul, with a dark humour that slowly gives way to mere darkness, as memories of past traumatic abuse are uncovered; shockingly triggered by a song she used to hear.
There is occasionally a platitudinal air to the messages that Parulyte wants to convey. In less able hands the piece could come across as a rather morbid affair. But Kristin Winters commands the space with her finely honed stagecraft. She knows when to dress the wounds in light entertainment and can perfectly balance the bawdy with the tragedy. Dispensing with the bulk of the auditorium, the audience are seated in an arc around the playing space. We are therapist, witness, confidant and eavesdropper – the intimacy sometimes blurring the line between Winter and the character she represents.
Come curtain call, Winters fights back the tears. Tears that glisten with notes of optimism. “We are all wounded children of wounded children”. Perhaps the cycle has been broken for Grace, and she can dance to a different tune. Ambiguous and challenging, “Lovefool” has its imperfections. But Winters is mesmerising in a performance that is faultless.