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Review | ‘Rose’ at HOME in Manchester

By Will Stroude

The return of multi-award winning actress Dame Janet Suzman to the stage for the revival of a play by one of our greatest living gay playwrights, Martin Sherman, is a real moment. Sherman’s play, Rose, was first performed in London at the National Theatre in 1999.

It is a millennial play, but far from losing its resonance, Rose, like any great play, has found a new one. Hearing the line, “Everyone kills little girls. It’s horrible but they do it” spoken on a Manchester stage, a week after a terrorist attack did just that, is a vivid and visceral moment that brings the message of the play sharply into focus.

Rose is sitting shiva, a seven day Jewish mourning ritual, though for whom remains a mystery. She is reflecting on the events of her life, from her childhood home being sacked in a Russian pogrom, to witnessing the birth of the state of Israel, from her marriages to three very different men, to her acceptance of her gay grandson. Her stories are intimate, powerful, funny, philosophical and deeply moving.

Sherman writes of traumatic events with a brilliantly humorous understatement that is far more moving than more florid accounts. “I suppose if you have your first period and first pogrom within a month of each other, you can safely assume your childhood is over.” The thread of Rose’s stories weave into the vivid tapestry of a life that is both ordinary and extra-ordinary, the same as everyone’s and profoundly different, universal and highly specific. This is first class writing from the playwright at full-strength.

Suzman is stunning, and this really is a masterclass in story-telling. Rose is not necessarily a reliable narrator. She tells us she forgets things, then remembers them. She paints amazingly vivid pictures of her past, then suggest she might have got confused with a film. Throughout she is situated in isolation and in grief, which is itself a form of madness. This provides many levels at which the script  can be played, and Suzman deftly and delicately finds them all. She is riveting. The simplicity of a woman sat facing an audience alone with a story to tell is perhaps one of the greatest acting challenges and Suzman is its champion.

Richard Beecham provides sensitive direction that trusts the power of both the text and his central performer, allowing them to open up, connect and thrive. The set design by Simon Kenny and lighting design by Chris Davey are as beautiful as they are effective, skilfully underlining the action of the play without ever drawing focus.

This is a brilliantly executed revival with an amazing central performance that reaches into the 21st century. Rose is as much about the world of today as it about the long shadows of the past.

Rating: 5/5

Rose runs until 10th June.

Words by Stephen M Hornby

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