Reviewed – 9th September 2020
“There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey”
Solo shows are hard. If there’s one thing that’s become more and more evident with every one-person play I see, it’s that. Sure, they can be easier to produce, but it seems trickier to capture the elements that make theatre crackle and pop. With only one actor, the energy between characters can be lost. With only one central character, often recounting the past, the script can lack a sense of momentum. And with only one point of view being presented, the overall production can feel thematically flat. Unfortunately, Rose falls victim to all of these trappings.
Written by Martin Sherman, Rose sees the titular character (portrayed by Maureen Lipman) relay her odyssey to the audience through the rise of the Third Reich to post-war America. As a Jewish woman, her relationship to her faith is frequently forced to be reckoned with, from the Russian village she grew up in through to the bustle of Miami. The detail into which Rose goes reveals a number of nuances into the ways in which Jewish culture and communities shifted over time and places, and provides a level of insight that isn’t often found on this scale. However, there is a lot of detail. Running at two hours, Rose sometimes feels like someone reading their Wikipedia page at you, as plot threads and tangents spring up all over the place and never feel like they’re tying together meaningfully, or that they’re contributing a great deal to the overall narrative.
Lipman gives a strong performance as Rose, albeit one that she seemed underprepared for, and is under-directed by Scott Le Crass. Certain sections meander, and the distances between the highs and lows feels too small at times, but there are some moments when Lipman rises above the confines of the format. There are a couple of scenes towards the end of the first act – one set on a boat, the other on a train – which are electrifying as the danger of the past is made to feel present in the retelling, and the urgency of the choices that had to be made land emotionally with the audience.
It’s all the more impressive that these moments connect as well as they do considering Lipman has no live audience to speak to. I expect there’s a reason we don’t see one-person films, and it’s because actors tell stories best when they have someone actively responding, whether that be an audience or fellow actors. Streamed from the Hope Mill Theatre, Rose has no-one in the room to engage with, and it suffers for it.
With antisemitism on the rise, Rose could be utterly vital. There are glimpses of the grandeur of the journey and the intimacy of the telling merging into something poignant and prescient, but the format of the play and this production feel ultimately unsuited to each other, instead serving only to highlight their shortcomings.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Channel Eighty8
Previously reviewed by Ryan:
Gently Down the Stream
Reviewed – 17th February 2019
“deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love”
There are some extraordinary theatrical experiences that move you so much that you want everybody to share them. This is one of them. Gently Down the Stream is written from the heart with such genuine feeling and soul that it gets inside you, taking you on a journey full of laughter, tears and hopeful joy.
Martin Sherman wanted to write a play that looked at the changes in gay lifestyle during his lifetime, but couldn’t figure out how to go about it until, one day when shopping for groceries, he got the idea of setting the story around an intergenerational relationship. The play takes place in West London over a thirteen year period, from 2001 to 2014, starting at the beginning of the relationship between sixty two year old Beau and twenty-eight year old Rufus. Rufus’ desire to learn about Beau’s life and his experiences on the gay scene take the audience on a voyage from New Orleans, where he grew up, through New York, Paris and London, from the forties on. As the love between Beau and Rufus develops they deal with their own personal demons, against the background of memory and history, until Harry arrives in their lives and changes everything.
Sherman says “I would write about a generation of gay men – my generation – that was brought up to believe they weren’t allowed to love, who now had to deal with a young generation that had no doubt but that they had every right to love.” His writing is deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love.
Jonathan Hyde’s Beau is touching and very funny. Beau’s life story takes us through iconic moments in gay history and intensely personal memories, and Hyde thoroughly inhabits the role. If his accent seems, at times, to slip, it doesn’t matter. He is outstandingly real and believable. Rufus is played by Ben Allen with energy and charm. He breathes new life into Beau, showing him new possibilities as he learns about the past. Harry Lawtey brings humour and a delightful freshness to the role of Harry, changing the relationship between Beau and Rufus, and opening the way for other kinds of love.
Director Sean Mathias is a long term friend of the writer, and he has worked with Sherman and his cast to produce an unforgettable piece of theatre. The set, designed by Lee Newby, is a living room with a stairs leading to an upper hallway, a perfect home for Beau, giving a sense of his character through his furniture and possessions. Jamie Platt’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s sound design meld together, adding to the atmospheric background of the play.
Gently Down the Stream is an important piece of work that tells a story that we need to know. A story of how gay men have come from a world where their lives and loves were illegal, to a world where they can marry and raise children together. There is still homophobia, there are still battles to be won, but this journey through a history that includes Stonewall and AIDS, is a triumphant one. In this play, that is universal and deeply personal, Beau, Rufus and Harry show us how love has many forms, and is at the heart of a life well lived.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Marc Brenner
Gently Down the Stream
Park Theatre until 16th March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: