Although born in New Jersey, Martin Sherman has lived in the UK since 1980. His plays have been produced in over sixty countries, and he has been nominated for two Tonys, two Oliviers and two BAFTAS.
The run of the digital revival of his Olivier-nominated play, ROSE, starring Maureen Lipman, has been extended by more than 2 more weeks.
- I believe "Rose" was originally written as a millennium play. Tell us a bit more about that and why it was appropriate to revive it now. Did you change much?
I haven’t changed the text. I’ve edited a bit, but that’s natural; you are constantly discovering unnecessary words. I wrote Rose as the millennium approached; I wanted to write two plays, one examining Jewish life in the twentieth century, and the other gay life. It seemed to me that both had changed profoundly. It took fifteen years to write the latter (“Gently Down The Stream”). I’m pleased to see Rose revived, but I wish there was no need for it. I wish there were no longer refugees. I wish there was no anti-Semitism. I wish children weren’t being shot by soldiers. Sometimes you write a play in the hope that what you are discussing will become obsolete. That hasn’t happened. This production allows Maureen Lipman to finally play Rose. We have wanted that to happen for many years, but circumstances never allowed. It was worth the wait. She is, simply, magnificent.
- Are there any other of your plays that you would like to see featured as a part of online theatre?
I would naturally love all of my work to be accessible on online theatre.
- There are lots of plays and monologues being presented online at the moment. How do you think they compare to giving and being in the audience for a live performance?
Nothing compares to the experience of seeing a play in front of a live audience. We mustn’t forget that as we enjoy the comfort of sitting at home watching a piece of theatre transmitted literally onto our fingertips. There’s a tension and an expansion from living in the moment with a group of actors that cannot be replicated. On the other hand, the problem with living in the moment is that the moment passes. Online theatre preserves. And does so beautifully. And allows people who might not be able to get to that theatre to see the performance. I think monologues lend themselves particularly well to this format. It’s possible to have a peculiarly intimate relationship with that one character
- What has been your lockdown experience? Do you think writers who tend to work as individuals are better able to cope?
I think it was assumed that writers would cope with lockdown better than most people. That hasn’t necessarily been the case. It isn’t easy competing with real life when life has become the best fiction ever written; every day is like reading the latest chapter of a Dickens novel; every day a new plot twist, every day grotesque new characters. It’s not easy to imagine anything that can match it. That’s possibly a personal reaction; but I can’t wait to see (often with dread) what happens next.
- Any plans for writing about the pandemic or will it be something you wish to steer clear of?
I prefer to have a sense of where the story is heading when I start to write, and I haven’t a clue where the pandemic or the current frightening political terrain are leading us, other than it will probably be surprising. But I sense that many of my younger colleagues are raring to be let off the leash, and I look forward to what Michaela Coel, Matthew Lopez, Jeremy O. Harris, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and others of their generation have to say about all of this. I think if disease and politicians (who are well lumped together) fail to close the theatres and neutralise other outlets of expression, we will be in for a period of spectacular writing.
Interview by John Chapman