“There is no more demanding role in the canon than Rose,” declared Richard Beecham, director of the first UK revival of Martin Sherman’s award-winning play, which premiered at the National Theatre in 1999.
This one-actor tour de force about persecution, displacement and survival stars Dame Janet Suzman in what Beecham describes as an “extraordinary role for an older actress” and runs at HOME, Manchester, until Saturday 10 June. “Older chaps get the parts,” he explained when he and Suzman spoke to the press prior to the play’s opening. She agreed that there were too few roles for older actresses and interjected with a wry smile: “I can understand why Glenda Jackson said ‘bugger it – I’ll play King Lear’.”
Beecham describes how Sherman has written about “an extraordinary century for Jewish people”, which chimed, according to him, with the enormous refugee crisis we are living through now. “It feels current. It actually feels like a 21st century play,” he stressed.
The play is “a cracker about a life lived with wit and energy”, with Suzman adding: “Refugees are unbearably brave. They need to get out and so does Rose; she is in crisis all the time, facing a series of terrible choices.” From her home in Florida, an 80-year-old Rose takes us through her long life: from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, through Nazi occupied Warsaw, to Palestine, America and the so-called Occupied Territories.
When I ask Suzman to what extent she identifies with Rose, she replies by clasping both hands tightly together: “Like that!” She exclaims. “I have pity and respect for people who’ve had a ghastly life. I rebelled [in South Africa’s apartheid days], boycotted, was kicked around by police… I didn’t want to act in comfortable little plays or domestic comedy. I wanted to be on the edge.”
Rose, she says, is the first Jewish part she's played, describing her own attitude like Jonathan Miller’s: 'Jew-ish'. She proceeds to challenge us to name one good role written for a Jewish mother and states, in her deep, rich, resonant voice: “I haven’t Jew-ished myself.”
By Gita Conn
Rose runs until Saturday 10 June. 7.30pm, 2pm (1, 3, 7 & 10 Jun only). £10-£26.50. Home, Manchester, M15 4FN. 01612 001 500. https://homemcr.org