Of Nettles and Roses

This play is based on a Yiddish story from Poland, enjoyed first by Jewish children. It tells the tale of Rebecca who lives with her stepmother and sisters. She is forced to work very hard. The stepmother decides to get rid of Rebecca and sends her to the river thinking that the watersprites will kill her. However, the sprites are actually friendly, funny creatures who give Rebecca certain unusual gifts; everywhere she walked roses grew, every time she breathed the air was filled with perfume and every time she washed in water it turned to gold. She eventually marries the Prince and they have a son.

However, her sisters (Ruth and Judith) have become sorceresses after running away from their stepmother. The wicked stepmother tricks them with money and the sisters perform a spell that leads to the death of Rebecca’s son. Waking with a knife in her hands, Rebecca is implicated in the crime and the heartbroken Prince sends her away and goes to war. Devastated Rebecca takes the boy’s body down to the water and washes the blood off. Suddenly she realises that her son, Isaac is alive.

The mother and son travel the country singing to earn money. Eventually they find their way to the house of two kindly old people. They throw a big party and the Prince attends. Rebecca sings for them and the Prince realises the terrible mistake he has made. They are reunited and the Ruth and Judith are forgiven and live with the old couple.

This is a reappraisal of an old Jewish text, updated for a modern audience. The play connects with Theatre Workshop’s ongoing study of Jewish experience in plays such as David’s Gift (1999) and Wave Me Goodbye (2001).