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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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Drowned or Saved? – 4 Stars

Drowned or Saved

Drowned or Saved?

Tristan Bates Theatre

Reviewed – 8th November 2018


“a moving and powerful theatrical experience”


Primo Levi, who died in 1987, was an Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and the author of a number of respected works including an account of the year he spent as a prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp. Drowned or Saved? is a new play written and directed by Geoffrey Williams that not only pays homage to Levi’s message of humanity, compassion and perseverance but also forces the audience to never forget the systematic murder of six million Jews. Whilst it is difficult to conceptualise that number of people, it is easier to understand one person’s story and in essence, this is what the play focuses on.

The audience is greeted by Levi in his sparsely furnished study. There are some books and a Menorah, a symbol of Judaism since ancient times. He is restless and unable to sleep. He struggles to get closer to a character in a story he cannot complete, so he delves into his haunting memories of Auschwitz and recalls characters he met.

Marco Gambino is perfectly cast as Primo Levi. He commands the stage and wonderfully conveys the tormented soul Primo has become. Equally talented, Paula Cassina plays his loving wife Lucia and also their housekeeper Mrs Giordanino as well as Vanda, a close friend of Primo’s who died alongside him on the train to Auschwitz. Alex Marchi takes on six very different character roles and is able to successfully switch between them, often in the same scene. The final cast member is Eve Niker who has the difficult task of conveying, with no words, the disintegration of an inmate in those terrible conditions. Primo knows her only as Null Achtzehn (translated to 018) due to him recognising part of her camp serial number.

Designer Baśka Wesołowska has created a simple but effective set with wooden slatted walls which adapt with the play’s timeline, from a study to a train wagon and finally to the camp. Rachael Murray’s sound design flows well and the lighting (Matt Leventhall) helps create a smooth transition backwards and forwards in time.

Amongst the outstanding storytelling, there are some moments that don’t quite work. Those not able to understand German and Italian, as well as Jewish tradition, may at times feel slightly isolated from the content. Equally the ending, whilst incredibly emotional, left the story slightly unfinished and I felt more could have been told about Levi. However, the writing and direction from Geoffrey Williams is commendable. Whilst the piece will appeal to a wider audience, it is certainly unmissable for those with an interest in the Holocaust, history or indeed with a Jewish background.

Drowned or Saved? clearly it isn’t a light hearted piece. It is however a moving and powerful theatrical experience covering a horrific, yet important, part of modern history that should never be forgotten.


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Ewa Ferdynus


Drowned or Saved?

Tristan Bates Theatre until 24th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Love Me Now | ★★★★ | March 2018
An Abundance of Tims | ★★★½ | April 2018
Lucid | ★★★★ | April 2018
Meiwes / Brandes | ★★★ | April 2018
The Gulf | ★★★ | April 2018
San Domino | ★★ | June 2018
The Cloakroom Attendant | ★★★ | July 2018
Echoes | ★★★★★ | August 2018
Love Lab | ★★★★ | August 2018
Butterfly Lovers | ★★ | September 2018
The Problem With Fletcher Mott | ★★★★ | September 2018
Sundowning | ★★★★ | October 2018


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