A single Rose

A one-woman show about a Holocaust survivor is brought to life by Maureen Lipman

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Dame Maureen Lipman is swapping the cobbles for the stage in a powerful one-woman show. Rose, at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, draws a portrait of a feisty Jewish woman and traces her story from the devastation of Nazi-ruled Europe to conquering the American dream.

“It’s brilliant to be bringing Rose by my good friend Martin Sherman to Manchester and then London this summer,” says Lipman, who first took on the role in 2020 when the production was filmed and streamed for home audiences. “We received such an enthusiastic response to the version we filmed at Hope Mill that it just seemed right to be brave and come and perform it live.”

The title character’s life story takes her from a tiny Ukrainian village, via Warsaw’s ghettos and a ship called the Exodus, to the boardwalks of Atlantic City, the Arizona canyons, and salsa-flavoured nights in Miami Beach. It’s a survivor’s story, told in the shadow of one of the most shocking events of the 20th century, the Holocaust. The piece, which made its debut at the National Theatre in 1999, seems to have found favour with audiences.

“It’s actually my most produced play in Europe,” says American dramatist Sherman. “It really seems to have struck a chord.”

Rose makes big themes resonate by locating them within one woman’s experience. As well as being about the monstrous physical violence and horror of the Holocaust, it also illuminates the cultural violence of the Nazis.

“Part of what it’s about,” says Sherman, “is how a culture has or has not survived. It’s about the Ashkenazi Yiddish culture and how it has possibly got somewhat lost along the way. It’s viewed as the culture of a past civilisation – specifically the European Jewry that was to a large extent wiped out by Hitler.”

Asked if antisemitism is still a relevant concern, the writer’s response is unequivocal.

“There is a resurgence in antisemitism. In fact, there are many anti-things going on around the world. The strange thing is part of me wishes my plays [which are mostly about the marginalised and oppressed] would go out of style and wouldn’t be necessary. The awful thing is that these issues keep coming back, making my plays relevant again just as they were before.”

For anyone who’s worried that Rose might be too heavy-going, Sherman is keen to reassure them that this isn’t the case.

“It’s a serious piece, but it’s not heavy. In fact, it’s a funny play because the only things that are funny in life are sad and terrible. Happiness is not funny. What comedy have you ever seen about happy people? And the character of Rose is someone with tremendous humour.”

The play’s combination of light and darkness makes Lipman perfect for the part, says Sherman. “Her range is one of the reasons she is so stunning in the role. It’s amazing that people are going to get the chance to experience it again.”

Lipman adds: “I hope audiences will enjoy the opportunity to spend time with Rose. She is a lover, a widow, a refugee, a grandmother, a critic and a business woman, and her story shows so much of the last century through human eyes.”

Rose is at Hope Mill Theatre from 30 Aug-11 Sept (hopemilltheatre.co.uk)

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