Tag Archives: Sean Cavanagh

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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The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas – Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald – 3.5 Stars


The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Reviewed – 12th January 2018


“Nicola Emmanuelle is a treat. Her voice is electrifying, and her power is more than equal to that of the ‘lads’”


The show has been doing the rounds for quite a while, and this revival is a lot of fun with a lot of excellent singing, and some rather uncomfortable moments. Its origins go back to 1996 when Mitch Sebastian was commissioned to devise and stage a concert tour celebrating the music of the Rat Pack. In 2002 the show was redesigned and took on, in essence, its current form. This is a show that is “all true but it never actually happened.” It is Sebastian’s vision of “a concert we wish we could have attended.” In these last weeks of its run it has been given a new zest with Ella Fitzgerald joining the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin.

The set, props, lighting, costumes and music whisk the audience back to the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in the late 1950s. This is quite a feat in the baroque splendour of the Theatre Royal Haymarket! Designer Sean Cavanagh deserves credit for the authentic feel of the staging. Sinatra owned a share in the Sands Casino and a nod is paid to his putative mafia connections at the opening of the show with an announcement that it has not been paid for for by the proceeds of organised crime. Each of the three main roles is triple cast, and this evening we had Garrett Phillips as Sinatra, David Hayes as Sammy Davis Junior and Nigel Casey as Dean Martin. All three are superb singers and successfully bring to life the three great showmen. Casey’s Martin is a drunk and a womaniser, appearing first of all with a rose between his teeth and presenting it to a woman in the front row. Some of the jokes fall flat as we are, perhaps, a little less inclined to laugh at blatant sexism, but some are very funny. It feels uncomfortable to be amused by this type of humour but it is a show set in a time and place where it was the norm, as were the ‘gay jokes’. The most uncomfortable sensation however was Sammy Davis Junior’s deprecation of himself and the attitude of the other two to him.

The real Davis was continually subject to racism and gave considerable donations to the Civil Rights movement. He was also the butt of jokes when on stage with Sinatra and Martin. He introduces himself as a ‘coloured Puerto Rican Jew’ and quips that when he says that people flee in all four directions. He is sometimes sidelined by the other two and says to Martin ‘you want to dance with me, but you wouldn’t go to school with me.’ Throughout all this Sinatra is the smooth one, the charming boss. The fact that the realities of the time and this aspect of the relationship between the men was not glossed over made me like the show more. It would have been easy to make it all comfortable and nostalgic. It was better with the occasional jarring note to our twenty first century sensibilities.

There are three women, dressed mostly in corsets and figure hugging dresses. They are a fictitious act, The Borelli Sisters. Sebastian invented them to bring some female energy to the macho atmosphere. And, no doubt, some glamour too. Played by Amelia Adams-Pearce, Rebecca Parker and Joanna Walters, they also bring excellent singing and colour to the scene. They are, of course, objects of desire for the men, and frequently drape themselves around them and flirt outrageously. They are very good indeed.

Ella Fitzgerald, played by the wonderful Nicola Emmanuelle is a treat. Her voice is electrifying, and her power is more than equal to that of the ‘lads,’ all of whom treat her like a queen. The final number brings the whole cast together, and also brought the audience to its feet.

All this was made possible by the Rat Pack Big Band and their musical supervisor Matthew Freeman. They are superb. There were no jarring notes from the orchestra, but Garrett Phillips sounded a little tired towards the end of the show, and it would have been nice if David Hayes could dance like Sammy Davis Junior. Overall though this is an enjoyable show with some truly great moments. Definitely worth going to see.


Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Betty Zapata



The Rat Pack – Live From Vegas Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3rd February


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