Tag Archives: Dario Coates

The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss
★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Rubenstein Kiss

The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 18th March 2019

★★★★★

 

“The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board”

 

Just before sundown on Friday 19th June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sent to the electric chair in New York’s Sing Sing prison, accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Proclaiming themselves innocent, to the point of martyrdom, right up to their deaths, the couple were the first American citizens to be executed for espionage. That they were sacrificial lambs to McCarthyism is generally undisputed, but a further twist to the case was that it rested on the testimony of Ethel’s brother, who decades later told reporters that he lied to protect his own family.

With name changes for dramatic licence, their haunting true story is the basis of James Phillips’ “The Rubenstein Kiss”, which takes its title from the famous photograph of the Rosenberg’s kiss in the back of the prison van before their execution. The fictionalised version of the photograph hangs in an art gallery in the mid-seventies; where young law student Matthew (Dario Coates) meets, seemingly by chance, history teacher, Anna (Katie Eldred). From this, again seemingly, light-hearted vignette of the courting couple we are suddenly swept back to Esther and Jakob Rubenstein’s starkly furnished New York apartment in 1942.

What follows is an utterly compelling and thought provoking two hours of theatre. The essential beauty of Phillips’ play is that it perfectly combines the brutal political and social impact of the historical facts with a profound and deeply moving study of two connected families across two generations. The dialogue shoots straight to the heart of the characters’ innermost concerns, showering us with the impossible questions about morality, loyalty, betrayal, truth and patriotism at such a divisive time in America’s history.

The urgency of the writing is matched by an outstanding cast across the board. Henry Proffit and Ruby Bentall, as Jakob and Esther Rubenstein, both capture the unwavering passion and blind resolve of the doomed ideological couple; Bentall quite simply riveting in her final scenes under interrogation by Stephen Billington’s cool, chilling yet ambivalently sympathetic FBI agent, Paul Cranmer. Sean Rigby’s sensitive portrayal of the traitorous brother saves him from villainy and, like his fiancé, Rachel Lieberman (Eva-Jane Willis) shows that the choices we are forced to make are never clear cut. In fact, collectively the entire cast allow the audience the freedom to make their own conclusions.

Under Joe Harmston’s vital direction, the interlocking strands of the narrative, aided by Matthew Bugg’s swooping sound design, seamlessly cut between the forties and the seventies. Dario Coates and Katie Eldred as the young lovers brilliantly depict their struggle to find their own identity, frantically looking for a truth that can help explain the past.

This production grips throughout, and while being a truly enthralling history lesson, it is essentially a haunting, poignant, sublimely crafted and superbly acted piece of theatre.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


The Rubenstein Kiss

Southwark Playhouse until 13th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

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Electra – 4 Stars

Electra

Electra

The Bunker

Reviewed – 1st March 2018

★★★★

“an accomplished and dynamic production, that milks its source for contemporary relevance”

 

A family tragedy of epic proportions, DumbWise Theatre bring John Ward’s new adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy to the Bunker Theatre. Electra, the youngest daughter, lives as a prisoner of her mother and the man who killed her father, while her brother Orestes is in hiding. As their personal story is manipulated for political gain, questions of revenge, loyalty and fate merge into a bloody climax.

This is a raw, stripped back staging of the classic tale updated to reflect modern sensibilities and complemented by a stark punk-rock score. John Ward’s interpretation retains the lyricism of the classic, but strips away some of the grandiosity to cut to the core of the story. Combined with Samuel Wilde’s open stage and stark lighting, this truly allows him to open up the characters and expose their full complexities to the audience. Unlike the gods, the characters do roll in the mud, revelling in their pain and humanity.

It’s a strong ensemble cast, with no weak links. Standouts of note would be Sian Martin’s coldly charismatic Clytemnestra who deftly moves the audience from fear, to scorn, to sympathy in what is a stirringly topical exploration of what it is to be a successful wife and mother in a position of power. Also Dario Coates as the naïve, conflicted Orestes, torn between loyalty to his father and his mother. Despite the over two hour run time, the pacing is tight and the musical interludes break up the action. While the first half can seem a little convoluted as it lays out the complex political landscape, it really hits its stride in the second half when we get to concentrate on the personal family drama at the heart.

It’s an accomplished and dynamic production, that milks its source for contemporary relevance. It’s incredibly effective and moving. Lydia Larson is electric and anarchic as Electra, a symbol of the revolution, full of rage and righteousness. The lasting impression is of a young woman so twisted by the pain of the past, that she has lost faith and sight in the future.

 

Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli

 


Electra

The Bunker until 24th March

 

 

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