Dr Rosa Hamilton is a specialist in geriatrics. Sitting in her office dictating into a voice recorder, she is charged with assessing the elderly for council residential care. She’s overworked, jaded after 20 years of trying to make a difference, frustrated by a system of what she sees as institutionalised injustice against the “undeserving poor” of London’s East End. Yet her professionalism constrains her to continue referring elderly people to care homes that they believe will be an improvement on the conditions they are living in and remove the burden on their families. But Rosa recognises that the care homes are simply “waiting rooms for death”, rather than the havens her patients expect. Rosa is a desperate, totally believable character full of self-doubt. She fears that, over the years, she has lost the white-hot anger needed to win the small victories for her patients as she battles the inherent bureaucracy of the system. With her anger replaced by cynicism, she could end up resigned to her middle-aged role as a “game old bird”. She thought she had achieved so much, but has she in fact only made things worse?
In a note-perfect performance, Jemma Redgrave imbues Rosa with a humanity that is seen throughout the beleaguered and underfunded NHS. A monologue is the most exposing role for any actor with no other cast to interact with. Redgrave’s portrayal of Rosa is both searingly honest and vulnerable as she looks the audience straight in the eye for much of the play.
The office setting is spot-on, the untidy desk, piles of reports and files that Rosa wearily ploughs through evidencing how overwhelmed she has become. Her “Keep Calm and Carry On” coffee mug, into which she pours a generous slug of Scotch, is a small but perfect summation of the play. Rosa, despite her despair, does exactly that.
Philip Franks’ direction is nuanced and multi-layered. The lighting, sound and cinematography all combine into one excellent piece of theatre.
Rosa is as thought-provoking and relevant a glimpse into the health-care and social care system now as it was when Peter Barnes wrote this piece in 1981 for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. That so little has changed in 40 years should be a salutary warning to everyone.
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 17th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
Standard – £10
With programme – £12.50
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Age guidance: suitable for all ages
Running time: approx. 20 mins per play
English subtitles available