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Review: Wee Rosie, Union Theatre

If a theatre company were to immortalise you two years after your death, which aspects of your life would they highlight? What would you be made to represent? Would the parts of your life that look striking to an outsider really be the parts that made you who you were, made you proud, made a difference in the world? Three Dot Theatre have immortalised Rosemary Holland in their one woman show, Wee Rosie. The show focuses on her early adulthood, a period of impressive fecundity, poor but gradually improving taste in men, cheerful resilience in the face of repeated…

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A real life story with a likeable but underdeveloped heroine.

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If a theatre company were to immortalise you two years after your death, which aspects of your life would they highlight? What would you be made to represent? Would the parts of your life that look striking to an outsider really be the parts that made you who you were, made you proud, made a difference in the world? Three Dot Theatre have immortalised Rosemary Holland in their one woman show, Wee Rosie. The show focuses on her early adulthood, a period of impressive fecundity, poor but gradually improving taste in men, cheerful resilience in the face of repeated setbacks and a traumatic period of mental illness. Though the making of the show is clearly an act of love, the result is more a record of births, deaths and marriages than a nuanced portrait of a woman in her world.

There is a lot of life to cover in 75 minutes, so there are necessarily gaps. Indeed, I wondered whether the three dots of the company name might refer to their fondness for ellipses in the plot, or to the requirement for audience members to join the dots. The birth of Rosie’s first two children is referred to in one fleeting line, and when she then talks about her third pregnancy making a mother of her, I was left wondering if I had just imagined the first two. Likewise, seven years living in ‘the south’ are entirely overlooked, presumably because they include no pregnancies, break-ups or life dramas. The effect of this foreshortening is to reduce our sense of who Rosie is. We see her chaos but never her peace, many of her failures but few of her successes. By focusing on the sensational, to the exclusion of the mundane – friendships, achievements, her relationship with her children – the play does a good job of reducing her to the sort of feckless procreator that certain politicians love to vilify.

The storyline is made more confusing by problems of audibility. When Rosie is reflecting on periods of hardship and misery, performer Sophie Spencer’s voice tends to drop to a whisper making it very hard to catch. Even worse, towards the end of the play Rosie spends several minutes sitting on the floor, at which point there is nothing to see from the third row back, and very little to hear. Frustrating for an audience member, but so easily remedied for a future run. Spencer plays Rosie with tenderness and a wry self-awareness, capturing the starry-eyed exhilaration that comes with each new romance. She carries the story confidently with just a few elements of set and costume for support.

Wee Rosie is a period piece, being of particular interest to this reviewer who was born in the same period to another teenage mother of exactly Rosie’s vintage. We get a sense of the period in a reference to electric shock therapy, and in the uncompromising attitude of the child protection service, but other than that the setting could be modern day. Perhaps this timelessness is deliberate, after all abusive husbands, mental illness and heart attacks haven’t gone away. Still, it would be interesting to have a sense of the world outside Rosie’s tiny universe, and indeed a clearer sense of the small Scottish town that made her.

We are all the star of our own life, and it is charming to see Rosie become the star of her own show, posthumously. If future iterations of the show were to focus on a shorter time period and flesh out her universe a little more, we might learn a welcome bit more about the woman, and not just the events.

Written and directed by: Keir Buist
Produced by: Three Dot Theatre

Wee Rosie has completed its current run at Union Theatre

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