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The Holy Rosenbergs, National Theatre

Ryan Craig
Directed by Laurie Sansom
★★★★
Courtesy of National Theatre

It is interesting to see what the National Theatre has on offer in the Cottesloe, their most intimate and flexible space. The Holy Rosenbergs is a new play, by a new author, in a small venue known for housing more experimental pieces. In addition the plot touches on another heavily politicised issue, the Israel-Palestine conflict, which raised fears that it may be a repeat of the political preaching dished out by Greenland. With all of this in mind, we approached their newest Cottesloe offering with some caution. On this occasion however, the National have got it right. The Holy Rosenbergs is not a political rant, it is much deeper and more thought-provoking. In short, it is very, very good.

Entering the Cottesloe for a new production is always a heart-in-mouth moment. How will it be laid out, where will your seats be, how will the set be done? Unlike the National’s 2009 production of Earthquakes in London, The Holy Rosenbergs is a straightforward in-the-round production, with a simple set of just a few bits of furniture, some carpet and a side-board covered in family photographs. It creates a cosy, family-orientated living and dining area, which is all that is required of it. The value of this production is very much in the dialogue and the performances.

The script is very good, though not flawless. The dialogue in the first act drags a little bit, and the plot is a little bit busy on occasions. However, The Holy Rosenbergs really does make you think in a way any play touching on sensitive issues should. This is a play about the impact of an international conflict on a single family within a tightly-knit Jewish community based in Edgeware, North London. The story focuses on David Rosenberg, whose life and kosher catering business are falling apart. When his eldest son Danny is killed fighting with the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza, the return of his daughter Ruth, a lawyer working for a UN report into suspected IDF war crimes, for the funeral causes the Rosenbergs to become increasingly ostracized within their community. As the plot progresses, the Rosenberg family spirals out of control into a complex web of emotions, opinions and facts. There seem to be no right answers, and it is refreshing and profoundly moving to see the non-violent impacts of wars on families thousands of miles away from the front line. Above all, The Holy Rosenbergs highlights the fact that sometimes doing what you believe to be the right thing often comes at a price.

The plot is carried well by some strong performances, although Henry Goodman’s performance as David Rosenberg is particularly good. Goodman creates a character who on the surface is seemingly bullish and confident, but who is actually desperately struggling to keep both his family and his community happy. Other strong performances come from Susannah Wise as the truth-seeking Ruth, and from Tilly Tremayne as the Mother who struggles to keep her family together. In fact, the only weak performance comes from Philip Arditti, whose portrayal of local Rabbi, Simon, was slightly flat, failing to engage the audience into the world of the local community.

All in all, The Holy Rosenbergs is a powerful and thought-provoking production. It is not without its flaws, but it successfully takes a new angle on a serious political issue, and it is refreshing to leave the auditorium thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict in a different way. The Holy Rosenbergs shows how this conflict has shaken the foundations of a single family. It doesn’t deal in politics, it deals in real human emotions as a family struggles to juggle the demands of their community with their own individual desires. 

The Holy Rosenbergs runs at the National Theatre until 24th June 2011.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.