Written by Martin Sherman
Directed by Richard Beecham
Performed by Janet Suzman
The curtain goes back to reveal a simple wooden bench on which a dimly lit Suzman sits. She informs us that she sitting Shiva. As she sits, we sit. As she speaks we listen. Stillness fills the main theatre space at HOME. Suzman as Rose commands the stage alone for over 2 hours, and is mesmerizing
Rose is simply one voice and one story picked out and told from a history of displaced people all across the World and all through History. The potency of that one voice telling one story ensures that it feels impossible not to focus and engage. There are no distractions other than subtle touches of music and a beautifully simple moodscape of shifting colours as a backdrop.
The first half focuses on Roses early life with her family and her first marriage to the love of her life and the subsequent birth of her daughter Esther. The images of family life and lilac trees and smooth chested men is rich and evocative. As the story moves from the ‘shtetls’ of Eastern Europe into Nazi occupied Warsaw the memories fragment as the horrors of the ghetto permeate her life.
The second act opens with the stage now filled with benches to sit Shiva. The result is haunting, so many benches for so many dead. The stark white simplicity is reminiscent of the rows of simple crosses marking the graves of the war dead in so many cemeteries.
Rose is now a business woman, married with a son and speaking with the accent of her adopted country. She speaks of her life in America and the choices she makes about what she recalls and what she suppresses from past memories. Her son and grandchildren continue the theme of displacement and the battle to forge a new nations identity. Her journey from the ill fated Exodus ship and the bright hope of a homeland is tainted by later events in Israel and Palestine. “The milk was slightly sour, the honey a bit tart.”
This is a beautifully crafted script by Martin Sherman and is skilfully directed by Richard Beecham to ensure that Rose is vital and real. The play avoids the stereotypes of Jewish mothers and tells a story from 20th Century history without preaching. The star of the show is of course Rose and rightly so, Janet Suzman is astounding as this warm yet brittle and wounded survivor. Her performance is subtle and understated but every look and movement is exact and illuminates Rose with depth and clarity.
History repeats itself and Rose has observed a century of the ebb and flow of peoples and their religions and cultures. It is timely that in the 21st Century we are revisiting this play as refugees flee their homes and seek uncertain welcomes and futures elsewhere.
At HOME until 10th June