Dame Maureen Lipman and Playwright Martin Sherman discuss the upcoming production of Rose, taking place at the Hope Mill Theatre from 30th August to 11th September.
Following one Jewish woman throughout her life, Martin Sherman’s Rose is a one woman show which blends the personal with the political. From a small village in Ukraine, through to the Warsaw ghetto, Israel, and America, Rose is an intimate, heartfelt, and often funny look at the events of the 20th century.
Starring the incomparable Dame Maureen Lipman, the show has been brought to life like never before. While nowadays it’s more common to see her on television in her recurring role of Evelyn Plummer on Coronation Street, Maureen has had a long and illustrious career on the stage, with credits including playing Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!, starring in See How They Run, Live and Kidding, and A Little Night Music. Off the stage, she’s best known for her starring role as Jane Lucas in Agony and for an overwhelmingly popular run of BT adverts in which she played an exuberant Jewish grandmother.
“Rose is a little bit of Woody Allen, a little bit of Tennessee Williams, and even a little bit of T.S. Elliot,” Dame Maureen Lipman told us. “It’s both poetic and literary, but also – and I speak as someone who is going to have to learn 47 pages to do it – it is so immaculately well-written as a play that it makes it a joy every time you dig it up. It has a sort of sweep to it like Thomas Hardy. And once you sit down and let it happen, it’s not really like acting. It’s like freefalling.”
The play was first performed in 1999 and has seen countless revivals throughout its 23-year history, most recently as an online production staring Maureen, filmed at the Hope Mill Theatre and also broadcast on Sky Arts. It is a story that never ceases to be relevant, and that has particular significance in light of recent events in Ukraine: “When you write something like that, against your own interests you would rather it no longer had relevance as time went on,” Martin Sherman commented. “But I’m afraid it does have an enormous amount of relevance at the moment. But I’ve been reading a book about the last 600 years of the city of Salonica’s history. One tends to forget that the world was always awful. We tend to think that everything now is worse than it’s ever been – it’s not at all. One of the problems that went on for 600 years was the problem of refugees, even more than there are now.”
Martin Sherman has had a widely celebrated career as a Dramatist and has been nominated for several awards, including Tonys, BAFTAs, and Oliviers – one of which is for Rose. His other works include Bent; The Boy from Oz; Messiah, which also starred Maureen Lipman; and most recently Gently Down the Stream at Park Theatre.
“When you write something like that, against your own interests you would rather it no longer had relevance as time went on.”
Since Rose has been revived over the years, Martin is less hands-on than he used to be with the production of the play: “You tend to be very involved with the first production. After that, because then the play is set, not so much. But I have been involved. Particularly because I’ve been waiting all these years to have Maureen Lipman play it. That’s a particular thrill. Maureen and I are great friends and have been for thirty years. I’ve always wanted her to do it.”
Many of even the most experienced actors feel some trepidation at performing a solo show, but not so for Maureen: “I’ve done one woman shows a number of times – not with anything as dense as this – so I’m pretty used to being on my own. I’m surrounded by actors in my day job on Coronation Street; there are 70 of us here. I love a company. My happiest time ever was in Lawrence Olivier’s company at the Old Vic from 1970 to 1973, watching and learning, and being part of a community. I love that. On the other hand, when you’re alone on a stage, the audience is your friend. In a funny way, over the years, I’ve come to realise that as a performer, I don’t really mind if there’s two people or 2,000. As long I’ve got a message to communicate and as long as I’m inside the person I’m playing, then that’s fine. Come along or don’t come along.”
The message that Maureen wants to leave the audience with is one of compassion: “I think if by the end of the play anyone watching hasn’t empathised, they must in some way be closed people. Martin makes it a journey that you go on with a young child for eighty years. And it’s full of humour, often black humour, and it’s full of resilience and compassion and joy and pain. It’s everybody’s story, so you hope somewhere that those who’ve had easier lives than Rose will feel uplifted, because life really does go on.”