Review: ROSE, Ambassadors Theatre

Maureen Lipman's one woman show runs until 18 June

By: May. 27, 2023
Review: ROSE, Ambassadors Theatre
Review: ROSE, Ambassadors Theatre The Talmud teaches that contradiction lies in the heart of all things. It is certainly true of Rose. An Eastern European drawl chimes beneath Maureen Lipman’s airy American accent: she is an outsider, in-between nations and identities as they merge and dilute in the wash of 20th century politics. A Wandering Jew still in search of a home she knows doesn’t exist.

Martin Sherman’s 1999 play dissects with a blunt but loving blade the personal history of an aging Holocaust survivor. Reminiscences about a childhood in a rural shtetl lead to the bustling streets of Warsaw where she meets her first husband. But her memory is a swamp. Reality and fiction are almost indistinguishable in the murky waters. She must wade through it to find the solace she seeks, if it is even there.

After the war she attempts to emigrate to the holy land, then still British Mandated Palestine. The same authoritarian hostility she encountered during the war blocks her passage, and she is sent packing with a new husband to America. The slow burning, but nonetheless hot to the touch core is revealed.

Here is where the contradiction lies. She longs to relinquish her trauma yet clings onto the rose petaled memories of her first husband in Warsaw unable to separate the joys of life from the heavy misery of death in “the old country.” She seeks solace in Israel but struggles to call the land her home; she cannot turn a blind eye to Palestinian blood on the nation’s hands. The vortex of violence brutally spirals in all directions, there is no escape for those within its whirlwind. 

Lipman renders Rose’s inner dichotomies with understated yet astonishing detail, a Japanese netsuke sculpture humbly glistening on stage. There are no theatrical bells and whistles to polish her presence. She remains perched on a wooden bench throughout. Yet as if by magic the room orbits her profound gravity, she draws the audience ever closer with her enigmatic warmth and the occasional sprinkle of Jewish self-deprecating humour.

It’s an especially wondrous feat in the Ambassadors Theatre, a veritable step up in size and undeniable step down in acoustics from the Park Theatre, where the production premiered. Lipman still beguiles where weaker performers would be swallowed in the paradoxically compressed yet extensive space. Maybe the Talmud was right.

One only wishes that Lipman had a more confident direction to prop her up. Scott Le Crass seems content to let Lipman do all the work. An occasional audio effect to evoke setting and changing colours projected onto a symbolically clunkily shaped back screen behind Lipman (it looks like an open book…get it?) are more incongruent than anything else. Some flourish is needed towards the end of the second half where pacing issues in the writing sap Lipman of her force. It is recovered by the end, but only thanks to Lipman’s dramatic virtuosity.

Rose plays at the Ambassadors Theatre until 18 June

Photo Credit: Alastair Muir


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