Writer: Martin Sherman.
Director: Richard Beecham.
Reviewer: Sam Lowe.
Martin Sherman’s play first premiered at the National Theatre in 1999, and today it is still relevant and poignant. Rose is a one person show about an eighty-year-old woman called Rose who lives in Miami, Florida. Rose takes the audience on a journey through her long life, this is an epic story which captures the lives of Jewish people throughout the 20th century, including during the time of the Nazi-occupied Warsaw. The play eerily resonates with the current refugee crisis in Europe, and what can be seen in the media and in political campaigns, particularly when Rose describes the Jewish people been packed like “sardines” on a boat to Palestine.
Academy Award nominee, Dame Janet Suzman not only plays the title role but literally embodies the emotional depth and complexity of her life journey. Suzman’s portrayal of Rose is fascinating, layered with vocal and physical nuances which fool you momentarily into thinking she is not acting the role, she is actually Rose. Her tired and weary vocal performance suitably hints this is a woman at the end of her life, her symmetric and angular arm movements, dynamically bring the story and character to life. Rose has confronted death and dark times, this can be recognised even in something as small as, her hand latching itself onto her body, almost for comfort.
Beecham’s direction places an emphasis on Suzman’s central performance and the words of the play. As Rose paints a detailed picture of her life journey, it’s like the audience are invited to construct the story in their mind. This is significantly effective in the play’s tragic moments, where the moment may not be visually represented but it is certainly felt.
Rose sits alone on a bench, isolated in a large black box, as designed by Simon Kenny. Trapped inside her own head, this could be due to her old age, or the emotional trauma of her story. Within Judaism, Shiva is a week long period of mourning and a time of reflection, and it is required that the grieving person sits down on a low stool. This suggests the reason why Rose sits down on a bench for the majority of the performance. In the second half, more benches are introduced on stage, suggesting the untold stories of other Jewish people. They are not just a statistic or number, their stories are as vivid and complex as Rose’s story too. At one point, it is unclear why the large black box slides closer to the audience and then goes back again, later on in the play.
The lighting and sound, designed by Chris Davey and Adrienne Quartly, reinforces the notion that Rose is trapped inside her own head. Varying colours of light cast beautifully onto the walls, convey her emotional states and locations in her memory. The sound clips such as of laughter and glass smashing assist the audience to construct the story in their mind.
A visually stunning moment is when sand appears to fall from the heavens on to the stage. In the Hebrew Bible, stars and sand are a metaphor for abundance. God assures Abraham he will have many descendants. For this production of Rose, the sand could relate to the quantity of Jews, the quantity of stories gone untold, as well as be a metaphor for the passing of time and emotional fragility.
What shines through in this production of Rose is the simplicity of how the story is communicated. Each production element is carefully orchestrated together to convey Rose’s inner thoughts and story, with each chapter of her story blending into the next. Rose is relevant, important, and has a stunning central performance from Suzman.
Runs until 10 June 2017 | Image: Contributed