I’ve come from the tube, peppered with queue-weary mourners and I’m now sitting shivah with Rose at the Park Theatre in the heart of Finsbury Park. I’ve not been here for a long time so it’s fantastic to be back at this buzzing theatre with its warm and welcoming bar and cafe. The auditorium is an intimate setting whilst the set itself shows the barest hint of room with a wooden bench, a bottle of water and nothing on the peripheral. I know Maureen Lipman as a multi-talented and great comic actress and the prospect of a monologue in her hands is exciting.
“She laughed. And blew her nose. She had a cold. The bullet struck her forehead. It caught her in the middle of a thought. She was nine.
I’m sitting shivah. You sit shivah for the dead.”
I couldn’t resist sharing these powerful opening lines; the first words uttered by the solo eighty-year-old Jewish woman, played majestically by Lipman. I am instantly and immediately transfixed with goosebumps. With this thunderbolt of an opening, there followed a stream of magical moments performed with unequivocal authenticity. We join Rose to sit shivah for a lifetime of love and loss, with each event reverberating and unforgotten across the twentieth century. Dry ice filters constantly while sometimes deeply harrowing memories breaks through the mists of her recollections. There is humour too, dry as a bone. The stories of Rose’s hypochondriac father draw uproarious laughter and then we stop dead with another devastating remembrance. Martin Sherman’s writing is exceptional, it flows and punctuates as instinctively as the performance.
Rose’s retellings are constantly thought-provoking and reminds us that the plight of refugees, conflicts and antisemitic views are still rife today. Her memories of violence, terrible loss and enforced restlessness are deeply moving with many audience members wiping away tears. One couldn’t help but be moved, especially with such an acting masterclass.
It’s so wonderful to see a monologue on stage. I love this genre and wish we could see more. A huge challenge for the performer but there is unrivalled magic if successfully accomplished. With its minimal set and perfectly placed subtle sound effects, Lipman is our main focus. The marching of soldiers or the noise of a bustling station platform drift in on waves as the memories float in and out of focus.
Lipman’s interpretation is a beautiful and naturally acted stream of consciousness. It’s as if this real-life character has just wandered in from the street and struck up conversation with the audience. Sometimes I think Lipman has forgotten her line, such is her mastery of the conversational performance, but I realise as the play unfolds that it’s Rose who is correcting herself or gathering her thoughts. I believe Rose existed as she’s portrayed with such unvarnished truth. Through her we hear of the experience of every Jewish survivor, mourner and of course the thousands lost in parts of this period. Lipman gives us a genuinely heart-moving experience and holds us under her spell.
Rose is heart-breaking but surprisingly droll and Lipman is unmissable.
Written by: Martin Sherman
Directed by: Scott Le Crass
Produced by: Thomas Hopkins, Michael Quinn & Guy Chapman
Lighting Design by: Jane Lalljee
Set Design by: Take 1 Scenic
Sound Design by: Julian Starr
Rose plays at Park Theatre until 15 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.