Look at this line. ‘I’m 80 years old. I find that unforgivable.’ Could an actor get a laugh on ‘unforgivable’? Maureen Lipman does just that in Rose, by Martin Sherman, a monologue spoken by a Ukrainian Jew who lived through the horrors of the 20th century. In the opening sections, Lipman plays it like a professional comic and she fills the theatre with warm, loving laughter. Rose’s dad is a hypochondriac who spends all day in bed. ‘He never stopped dying but as far as we could tell there was nothing wrong with him.’ Eventually he loses his life when a wardrobe stuffed with pills topples on to him. ‘He was crushed to death by medicine.’
As a teenager, Rose witnesses a raid by Cossack horsemen but their savagery is relatively benign. ‘They didn’t try to harm us. They just smashed everything up.’
She gets through by accident. She’s never at the centre of events but somehow she finds herself in the wrong place at the right time. She left for Poland in 1937 and dodged the Nazi genocide in Ukraine. In 1939, when the Germans arrived in Warsaw, she was unconcerned. ‘It’s someone else’s war.’ Having witnessed the violence of the Cossacks, she felt prepared for further mistreatment. ‘How much worse could the Germans be …?’ After that Lipman says nothing – and her silence contains the souls of six million people.
Rose takes a job outside the Jewish quarter in a factory whose owner isn’t anti-Semitic. One afternoon she spots flames rising from the ghetto but she isn’t allowed to leave the building and protect her daughter, Esther. ‘We had to go back to our machines.’ It’s not clear how the child died.