ROSE at the Ambassadors Theatre
“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.
Reviewed on 26th May 2023
by Phillip Money
Photography by Pamela Raith
Previously reviewed at this venue: