As new members of the HOME volunteer team in Manchester, James and myself were lucky enough to see Dame Janet Suzman’s latest and most wonderful performance of Rose, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Richard Beecham.
An eighty-year-old Rose sits alone in what could be referred to as a ‘memory space’, dressed head to toe in black as she recounts her tumultuous life that took place over the twentieth century. From a Jewish background, Rose grew up in a small Ukrainian shtetl (village), experiencing the horror of pogroms and famine. Adventurous, free-spirited and eager to escape the dreariness of her current life, she eventually seizes the chance to leave her shtetl, joining her brother and his wife in Warsaw.
Suddenly our Rose is a young woman in a vibrant, beautiful city, she eats cake in cafés and falls in love. Too soon these are but bittersweet memories, the religion she never believed in catching up with her and somehow have made her a target of Hitler’s Nazis and the terrible Warsaw Ghetto. The Rose that stands before us remembers everything, as much as she tries to repress it.
When the war finally ends, like many others in her situation, the promise of Palestine is on her lips. “Exodus 1947” her boat from France reads, and the Americans sailing them self-proclaim themselves as their saviours. One of them is a young man from New Jersey, and falls in love with Rose. His last name just so happens to be ‘Rose’, and turns out to be her ticket to freedom, or to America.
She describes New Jersey in the fifties and the description coupled with the minimal atmospheric use of lights takes us there. There are so many Jewish people Rose tells us, all with a slight look of guilt in their demeanour. No one wants to hear about what went on in the ghettos and extermination camps in Europe, not yet.
Rose begins to live what you could call the American Dream. She works hard and starts a family, builds up her reputation in the hotel industry as the very singular ‘Rose Rose’. She tells us of her experiences of life in America, seemingly miles away from the trauma she so recently went through.
For the two hours of the show, Suzman’s performance and storytelling gift had me utterly wrapped up in Rose’s world and emotions.
Now onto James’ thoughts:
Before we took our seats I was worried that I would not enjoy it. Having never been to a single performer show it was a completely new experience for me. However everybody I spoke to about Rose said it was fantastic and I have to say I agree with them entirely.
Dame Suzman immediately filled the stage with her presence, extinguishing all the worries that I had. The set was incredibly minimal, (first one, then many benches) but had a profound meaning that became clear as she explained her life story. Rose has cemented itself as one of the best theatre shows I have seen and I simply cannot recommend it enough!