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BWW Interview: Martin Sherman Talks ROSE at Hope Mill Theatre

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The Olivier-nominated play Rose is getting an online revival

BWW Interview: Martin Sherman Talks ROSE  at Hope Mill Theatre
Martin Sherman

Martin Sherman's Olivier-nominated play Rose is getting an online revival, with Maureen Lipman in the lead role, streamed for three performances through the Hope Mill Theatre website.

He talked to BroadwayWorld about his legacy, why the theatre was such a lifeline for him and what he's missing about it.

What inspired you to write Rose?

I was trying to look at Jewish life in the 20th century and the enormous changes that occurred within the Jewish community. I tried to do it through the life of one woman, rather than creating an epic. When it first played in 1999, I wanted to write two plays: one about Jewish life in the 20th century and one about gay life in the 20th century. It took me another 15 years to write the gay play.

It first premiered in 1999, but has seen many revivals since. How does it feel to see your show revived and seen by more and more people?

It was in Manchester a couple years ago with Janet Suzman, and in Europe it's been my most produced play. It never seems to be offstage; it's produced again and again with wonderful actresses playing the role.

It's an extraordinary feeling to know it's being seen by so many people. Twenty years later, it gives me a very warm feeling to see that the play is still functional and still meaningful.

But that's interesting, because it's actually a conflicting feeling: your ego is very happy that the play still has a great deal to say, but there's another part of you that is very sad about that. When you write a play that talks about politics, your hope is that many of the things it's talking about will be corrected, and that, in essence, there will be no need for the play that you've done 20 years later. And from that point of view, unfortunately, there still is.

You have a huge legacy of writing shows that support and show the plight of the LGBTQ+ community across history. How does it feel to see your plays making a difference?

I suppose if you're making a difference, you don't really realise that you are. It took me many, many, many years to realise and understand the kind of impact that Bent, for instance, had personally on a lot of people. It's just hard for you to understand that in the moment.

I don't really get immediate feedback other than reviews. People will come backstage and talk to actors; an actor in a play will begin to get a feeling about what kind of impact the play is having. But a writer doesn't have a dressing room for people to come to - you're actually far more cut off from responses than most people involved with the production.

What's been your career highlight so far?

I hope it hasn't happened yet.

I've had so many truly extraordinary things happen in the last 40 years that it's genuinely hard to choose one above the other. I've been very fortunate in many ways.

What inspired you to start writing in the first place?

I honestly don't know, because I wrote my first play when I was 12. It was just something I had to do.

Partly it came from the fact that I started going to the theatre when I was very, very young for reasons that are deeply difficult to explain or understand. I was taken to the theatre originally by my mother, probably because she couldn't afford a babysitter to cross the river from Philadelphia.

And then my mother became ill and I kept going. So, I was nine, 10, 11, 12 years old going to Philadelphia, sitting in the audience of extraordinarily adult plays that I should not have been at. Theatre became a kind of life support for me, it became part of my DNA.

With theatre being such a big part of your life, what have you missed the most about it during the pandemic?

I think like everybody in the theatre, I'm upset and very frightened. It's seriously ironic that the very elements that make theatre so special are pragmatically the elements that make it difficult to continue during the pandemic.

But I do think that people in charge of government are not thinking clearly enough or not thinking outside the box about how to resuscitate the theatre. It's just not a concern of theirs, and it should be because, certainly in a country like England, theatre is an extraordinary part of the economy and also a huge part of the soul of the nation, and it always has been. If you cut that away, you're diminishing the entire country.

It needs inventive thought, and a lot of people in the theatre are taking the lead and trying to find a way of coming back, but they must be worked with; scientists have to work with them, ministers have to work with them in order to make it happen. There isn't enough effort on the other side and, ironically, what it needs is creative thinking, but not just by the creative people, because there are scientific measures that creative thinking people won't know about. Some of that thinking is happening - several creative people in fact are getting involved - but not from the others.

As a writer who's never been afraid to address tough topics in your work, what issues would you love the next generation of writers to focus on?

I think the next generation have that very well in hand, I really do. They're looking very critically at the world with a wide range of interest. I really mean that.

Why should people watch Rose?

Because it will entertain and provoke them, make them think and feel.

And because it's got an utterly extraordinary actress playing the lead. Maureen Lipman has been wanting to play the role for a long time and the circumstances just haven't come together, so this was kind of meant to be.

Rose is available to stream on the Hope Mill Theatre's website now until 12 September. Tickets are £8 (plus £1.50 booking fee) and a percentage of sales will go towards supporting Age Concern, The Fed & UK Jewish Film.

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