‘Rose’: A voice and a lifetime of memories at the Market Theatre
‘It would be wonderful if the social and political problems surrounding ‘Rose’ were solved and settled, thus forcing the play to be obsolete; but contemporary events, unfortunately, insist on keeping the play as timely as ever,’ said Martin Sherman, the author of ‘Rose’, now on at the Market Theatre in Joburg.
An elderly woman sits alone on a bench, with a handbag and a box of medicines at hand to treat the ailments of old age. As the light illuminates her silhouette, her blue jacket contrasting against the theatre curtain – a costume designed by Margo Snoyman – her first few sentences stop us dead, just like a bullet stopped the young girl she’s describing.
This is the beginning of the story of Rose, a play by Martin Sherman, now revived by the Market Theatre in Joburg. First performed at the Royal National Theatre (now The Dorfman Theatre) in London in 1999, it is storytelling at its purest: a voice, restrained gestures and a lifetime of memories.
In a way, this is also an apt play, with its bare decor and cast of one, at a time where budgets have been cut and health protocols make gatherings at the theatre a challenge.
South African actress – as well as teacher and performance coach – Camilla Waldman, directed by Malcolm Purkey, is magnificent as Rose, a Jewish woman who doesn’t believe in God – and why would she, after all the horrors she’s lived through? Waldman grabs the audience’s attention one story at a time: while her body seems stuck on the bench, words, expressions and arms flow in a constant movement, spinning stories at the audience. Rose is both playful and sparky, waving her hands exuberantly and laughing heartily; and then, in the more sombre moments, a downward flicker of the eyes and a droop of her mouth shift the mood, and suddenly make the hearts heavy.
The brilliantly written script sweeps across the years: this is the story of an entire nation, but shared through the words of one woman; through her descriptions the Nazi invasion of Poland and the living conditions in the ghettos are vividly recreated in our collective mind.
But that’s not all: 80-year-old Rose also joyously talks about sex; at first, it feels a little disconcerting, until it becomes gleefully liberating. The noisy, messy, glorious delight of it with her first husband, then the disappointingly clumsy, inept attempts by her second, which saw her trying to invoke the spirit of her long-lost first husband to revive the thrills. A far younger hippy lover adds to the spice that keeps the memories of this feisty character so entertaining.
In an interview with the UK’s Theatre Weekly, playwright Martin Sherman said he wrote Rose as the millennium was approaching; he wanted to capture the Jewish experience of the last century, but to do so through the eyes of one character rather than to create an epic. “No one wants to write a disposable play,” he said at the time.
Years later, he was saddened to see that war and refugees seeking asylum are still modern humanitarian problems that many countries seem to be refusing to deal with.
“It would be wonderful if the social and political problems surrounding Rose were solved and settled thus forcing the play to be obsolete; but contemporary events, unfortunately, insist on keeping the play as timely as ever,” he said. DM/ML
Rose by Malcolm Purkey runs at the Market Theatre at 7pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays and 3.15pm on Sundays until 16 May. Tickets from Webtickets.