Tag Archives: Declan Randall

Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act


Playground Theatre

Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act

Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act

The Playground Theatre

Reviewed – 27th September 2021



“With a touch more light and shade in the performances, the individual gems of this production will be able to shine”


In every era, there are always a few people in the arts whose life and career seem like something out of a movie or novel. Such a characterization can be applied to the dancer and actress, Ida Rubinstein; the Russian-Jewish ‘femme fatale’. A figure who commanded the limelight in Paris for nearly half a century, her name is somehow largely forgotten today, despite her varied career and fame throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in 1885 into a fabulously wealthy family belonging to the Ukraine’s Jewish mercantile elite. Orphaned at an early age, the lucky child was raised in St. Petersburg by relatives who were firmly integrated into the social fabric of the Imperial Capital. Her arts-loving family ensured maximum exposure to the cultural activities of the city. While her talent could be sometimes doubted, it was her money, privilege and enigmatic beauty that bought her ticket into the dance and theatre world. She used these assets to great effect, courting and buying many influential men in her quest for beauty, art, and stardom.

“Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act” retells, in epic fashion, the scandalous life. A career that ran afoul of the period’s social prejudices. Theatrical choices that lead her family to commit her to an asylum; her bisexual love affairs, the assassination of her long-term lover and her ultimate selfless devotion to wounded soldiers in both World Wars. A daunting task for Naomi Sorkin the actor and former ballerina who takes on the role. “Where to begin?” she asks in character, addressing Edward Clément (Max Wilson) a reporter who has arrived to interview her. It’s a neat and deceptively simple theatrical device that allows Sorkin to vicariously dip into memories and reflections, combining music, movement and projections to reassert the legend that was Rubinstein. Wilson’s natural charm as Clément melts Sorkin’s initial reluctance to kiss and tell.

The painstaking research gives a true biography of the diva’s life, yet Sorkin’s performance lacks the variety and dynamism to show the true colours. The figures that weave themselves into the anecdotes are often more interesting. Darren Berry’s Ravel is a delight as he recounts at first hand the composer’s creative process behind his ‘Bolero’. And then meticulously plays it at the piano. But overall, the ambition of the piece exceeds the capabilities of this otherwise strong cast. Director Christian Holder has created something that could be very special indeed and with David Roger’s design, complemented by Declan Randall’s lighting, it is beautiful to watch. Yet somehow the feeling is one of witnessing the earlier stages of a devised piece, in which the ideas outshine the emotional impact. We are aware of the textures of this fascinating story but cannot yet appreciate the finely tailored result.

With a touch more light and shade in the performances, the individual gems of this production will be able to shine; perhaps even dazzle us. Ida Rubinstein’s colourful and inspirational life deserves to be written back into history but, as yet it’s still an early draft.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Gareth McLeod


Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act

The Playground Theatre until 16th October


Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
The Windsors: Endgame | ★★★ | Prince of Wales Theatre | August 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021
Constellations | ★★★★ | Vaudeville Theatre | August 2021
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021
When Darkness Falls | ★★★ | Park Theatre | August 2021
Cinderella | ★★★★★ | Gillian Lynne Theatre | August 2021
Fever Pitch | ★★★★ | Hope Theatre | September 2021


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King’s Head Theatre & UK Tour



King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 13th June 2019



“Bryony Buckle may be ‘astoundingly average’ but Vulvarine’s cast and direction are anything but”


Vulvarine: A New Musical is a superhero comic musical parody which tells the story of Bryony Buckle (Allie Munro), a young woman who lives an exceedingly ordinary life in the uneventful town of High Wycombe. Bryony checks tax codes by day and sips red wine with her cat Elton (Robyn Grant) by night. That is, however, before she is transformed into the superhero Vulvarine following a hormone injection at the doctor’s and a convenient lightning strike.

Following the discovery of an error in the tampon tax, Vulvarine, her best friend Poppy (Katie Wells) and her pretty boy love interest Orson Bloom (Jamie Mawson) must take on the misogynistic Mansplainer (Robyn Grant) and his wife Sonya (Steffan Rizzi) before women in High Wycombe and beyond are made subservient by his Hormone-a-beam.

Through Vulvarine: A New Musical, Artistic Director Robyn Grant aims to highlight the extensive use of hormonal medication amongst women. Grant herself was on the contraceptive pill for period pain from the age of fourteen and it was only ten years later that she became aware of its terrifying side effects. With the rising wave of abortion restrictions in America, Grant hopes Vulvarine will inspire women to take control of their own bodies and revolt against those who wish to restrict womankind. Despite these powerful themes, Vulvarine: A New Musical never takes itself too seriously and succeeds in engaging its audience with these important topics in a fun and light-hearted way.

Vulvarine: A New Musical is exceedingly funny. The cast take a little while to warm up, but the show is soon in full swing with a laugh a minute. The dialogue is quick and hyperaware of the superhero clichés it draws on. Instances of actors breaking the fourth wall such as when a stagehand lifts a chair to demonstrate Vulvarine’s super-strength before looking at the audience, going ‘oops!’ and running off stage are wonderfully humorous additions.

The stage consists of a simple cardboard townscape for most of the show but becomes more elaborate towards the performance’s end with the incorporation of a (cardboard) control panel and shark tank when the protagonists infiltrate Mansplainer’s lair. The props (Hugh Purves) are a lot of fun and include a plastic pigeon on a stick which transports Bryony and Poppy to a park bench and a muppet-style puppet acting as Elton the Cat. At times the stage does seem rather crowded, but the cast work well with the space they have.

Grant shines throughout and Munro is a strong lead. Wells, Mawson and Rizzi all provided excellent support with the former electrifying the stage with the solo ‘Boys will be Boys’. Other notable songs are the Avenue Q-esque ‘Licking My Anus’ performed by Elton the Cat and ‘Who’s that Girl’ performed by both Bryony and Poppy and nicely threaded throughout the musical in multiple reprises. Bryony Buckle may be ‘astoundingly average’ but Vulvarine’s cast and direction are anything but.


Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli



King’s Head Theatre until 6th July then UK Tour continues


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Outlying Islands | ★★★★ | January 2019
Carmen | ★★★★ | February 2019
Timpson: The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
The Crown Dual | ★★★★ | March 2019
Undetectable | ★★★★ | March 2019
Awkward Conversations With Animals … | ★★★★ | April 2019
HMS Pinafore | ★★★★ | April 2019
Unsung | ★★★½ | April 2019
Coral Browne: This F***Ing Lady! | ★★ | May 2019
This Island’s Mine | ★★★★★ | May 2019


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