This is a one woman show performed by the great South African actress Janet Suzman. Lasting just over 2 hours it is a tour de force, telling the compelling and poignant story of an elderly Jewish woman looking back over her long life. It spans much of the 20th century, from a hand to mouth childhood in a Ukrainian village up to a comparatively affluent retirement divided between Florida and Israel. Encompassing Stalinist oppression, the Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis, escape to Palestine on board the infamous SS ‘Exodus’, and then resettlement in America, she tells of her family, lovers, husbands, children and grandchildren. It is a story punctuated by loss and grief, as well as love and redemption.
If the aim of theatre is to educate then this play certainly achieves that, as we learn so much listening to this character’s story. But that’s not to say that this is a dry didactic piece. It is entertaining too, drawing us in with the wonderfully engaging power of the story. Written by the award-winning American playwright Martin Sherman the writing is never dull, often moving and sometimes amusing, a narrative that carries the audience along on the colourful and eventful journey through Rose’s life.
As for Janet Suzman’s performance it is an impressive feat for any actor, never mind someone of her age, to perform a monologue of this length and power with such apparent ease and charisma. We were quite simply blown away by it, and it won a richly deserved standing ovation.
A mention should also be made of the director Richard Beecham, as well as the design, lighting and sound team (Simon Kenny, Chris Davey and Adrienne Quartly), whose various contributions combined to make this into a memorable piece of theatre.