Martin Sherman
Thomas Hopkins, Michael Quinn, Guy Chapman, Sanig Peker, Keren Misgav and Pinnacle Productions in association with Julian Stoneman, Creative House Productions. John Rogerson and Sisco Entertainment Group
Ambassadors Theatre

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Maureen Lipman Credit: Mark Senior

Rose is sitting Shiva for a child. She says, “the bullet struck her forehead. It caught her in the middle of a thought. She was nine.” We will hear more about the child she is mourning towards the end of the play. Before that time, we will hear about her own life from her birth in 1920 to the end of the twentieth century when this play is set.

Her story mixes sadness with a good deal of humour and is performed brilliantly by Maureen Lipman, whose every gesture, every facial expression and every phrasing of some thoughtful, often witty comment is absolutely riveting. She admits that, “nowadays, breathing is one of the few pleasures I have left.”

The monologue divides into three sections. The first takes us from her childhood in a Ukrainian shtetl at a time when Ukraine was part of Russia. She comments in this play, written in 1999, “The Ukraine! Why would anyone want it?

The second section concerns the rise of fascism in Germany. By the time the Nazis are marching across Europe, she is in the Warsaw ghetto with a partner and a young daughter. Although she initially imagines the Germans can’t be worse than the Polish people, she is soon to discover how wrong that is.

Finding a day job that takes her out of the ghetto during working hours, she misses a massacre that might have included her partner. She later learns her daughter was shot in the head by a Ukrainian working with the Nazis.

This section also takes her on a ship organised by the Haganah to Palestine. It is boarded by the British, who have set limits on the number of refugees they will allow into the area. They brutally beat the passengers before returning them to postwar Europe.

The third section concerns her postwar life in America, where she observes the government’s House Committee on Un-American Activities' hunt for communists, which she claims “is just a code word for Jew.”

Her dream of Palestine as a Jewish homeland begins to sour as she sees the cruelty of Israel towards Palestinians. She admits of the Israeli killings that she “was not always sure it was in self-defence.”

Soon she finds herself in arguments with both her son and his partner, an American Christian who converted to Judaism, who take a more extreme view of support for Israeli settlements. Her daughter-in-law even suggests Rose is no longer a Jew.

So she sits Shiva for a nine-year-old Palestinian girl murdered by an Israeli. It’s a death that must echo that of her own daughter many years earlier.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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