entertainment

Rose review: 'Maureen Lipman is mesmerising as Jewish Holocaust survivor'

The one-woman show from Bent playwright Martin Sherman is at London's Park Theatre until 15 October.

2022-09-16

Words: Simon Button

Recently I heard a theatregoer whingeing about one-person shows, saying that they should be cheaper because of lower production costs. And do the actors, he wondered, get paid more if they’re flying solo?

Well, whatever Maureen Lipman is getting paid to inhabit the Park Theatre stage on her own for the two-plus hours of Rose, she deserves every penny. Hers is a performance for which phrases like ‘powerhouse’ and ‘tour de force’ were invented. As an 80-year-old Jewish woman recounting a life filled with pain and pleasure, devastating lows and giddy highs, unimaginable suffering and an indomitable survival instinct, Lipman is mesmerising.

When we first meet Rose she is sitting shiva (ie in mourning) for a young girl who has been shot and killed under circumstances that aren’t revealed until much later in this tonally perfect monologue from Bent playwright Martin Sherman. Sat on a hard wooden bench as is the custom at such times, downing lots of water to cope with a cough, taking her medicine with a scoop of ice cream (“I know, I’m eating ice cream to take a pill for cholesterol”), she proceeds to recount her life story. 

And what a life Rose has lived. From the small Ukrainian village where she was born to Miami Beach where she ends up owning a hotel, her journey is a harrowing one as it takes in the Holocaust, the sewers of Warsaw, arrests in Palestine, failing health and the ghosts of lost loved ones.

But it is also shot through with humour as she talks about a clumsy American sailor who literally falls for her on a boat and cracks comic asides about her heritage, such as: “Jews are not visual. Look at the way they dress.”

Sherman writes with wit and observation in a play that’s about a life lived to the full and experiences that are at once deeply personal to the woman alone on that stage yet universal for everyone in the audience. First performed in 1999 with Olympia Dukakis in the lead and still set on the cusp of the new millennium, it now feels even more relevant given the war in Ukraine. As the writer says: “History insists on displacing and oppressing human beings in a kind of never-ending loop.”

Lipman is a warmer actress than Dukakis and she gives a beautifully modulated performance that feels more like a sometimes cosy and oftentimes deeply distressing chat with a fascinating character than an over-rehearsed monologue from a seasoned professional.

Because of the pandemic she originally performed it as an online stream from an empty auditorium but you can’t beat being just a few feet away from her in such an intimate setting as the Park Theatre. When, deep into the character she’s playing, she cries at memories that are too painful to bear I defy anyone not to cry with her. 

Rating: 5/5 

Rose is at the Park Theatre until 15 October. For more information visit roseonstage.co.uk and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.