Tag Archives: Mike Robertson

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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Sex / Crime – 4 Stars


Sex / Crime

The Glory

Reviewed – 12th April 2018


“a fascinating and well-crafted insight”


In a “lovely basement” (correction: “lovely dungeon”) B has paid A a large of amount of money to recreate one of the famous gay serial killer’s murders, with B as the victim. “I’m going to hurt you,” promises A. “Promise me you’ll make me forget who I am,” retorts B. B has a pain threshold of eight and three quarters and has taken all his drugs on the bus. He is not only a fan of the gay serial killer but “an admirer” and he knows every case in perfect detail. But A has insider knowledge. However expectations collide and the two have to decide how far they are willing to go. As the situation simmers, the session makes a U-turn.

This play is a fascinating and well-crafted insight into a taboo part of the fetish scene, questioning the boundaries between pleasure and pain and revealing the extremities of sado-masochism. It is a nuanced and non-stereotyped approach, which deals in real people and real desires without judgement, whilst still delivering a dramatic and intelligent narrative structure. Alexis Gregory’s writing is darkly funny, and successfully addresses his focuses for this show, fetishisation and ‘gay’ serial killers – “we never say ‘heterosexual serial killers’ do we?” asks Gregory in the programme.

Both Alexis Gregory (also the playwright) as B and Jonny Woo as A, deliver fantastic performances. Gregory has a manic energy onstage, somehow infectiously likeable. There is a wonderful juxtaposition between his excitement and the context in which we find him. Woo is cold, professional and apparently impenetrable. They play off each other fantastically, antitheses of each other in many ways, the balance of power tipping between them in a delicate build of tension.

There is a stylised quality to Gregory’s writing style, which works fantastically in the first half of the play but makes the empathy necessary in the second part harder to muster as an audience member. The play lags at this point as a result of this and the change lacks some believability, and the underlying darkness could have been pushed further at this middle point.

The set (Robbie Butler) is wrapped in white plastic and littered with implements of pain and/or pleasure, hammers and full syringes, and is enhanced by Mike Robertson’s lighting design, which reinvents the space over and over as time passes. With loud sounds punctuating sudden blackouts, the violence is well done – not shied away from, but also not gratuitous.

This is a well crafted, well written piece about a topic that is frequently categorised as taboo, delivered by two excellent performers.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Jane Hobson


The Glory London

Sex / Crime

The Glory until 28th April


Also directed by Robert Chevara
Vincent River | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | March 2018


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