The Holy Rosenbergs – May 2011


By: Ryan Craig

Directed by: Laurie Sansom

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Thursday 5th May 2011

The Cottesloe was in an unfamiliar arrangement for this play, an interesting cross between a standard domestic drama and an airing of viewpoints on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Speaking as someone with no vested interest, and with a less than perfect knowledge of the recent history of this subject matter, I can only comment that as far as I could tell, the views expressed seemed to be balanced overall, with no ‘side’ coming out on top, although individual characters naturally took up strong positions to allow the debate to take place. I certainly felt I knew a bit more about the subject than when I arrived, though that wouldn’t be difficult.

The set was a living/dining room, placed diagonally across the Cottesloe space. We were on the dining table side of the room; to our right was the exit to the kitchen, and round from that were the sofas at right angles to each other, with coffee table. Opposite us was the door from the hall, and along the left side as we looked at it was a long sideboard with many family pictures in frames. The seating rose up steeply on all sides, so naturally there was nothing on the ‘walls’, and even the front row was looking down on the action.

The Rosenberg family are kosher caterers in the Edgware area. David, the father, and Lesley, the mother, have been working hard to rebuild their business after an unfortunate death at an event they catered. Although it wasn’t caused by food poisoning, the mud stuck, and now the business is on the verge of collapse. Their son, Jonny, appears to be a waster, sponging off his parents but having grand schemes to get rich quick – internet gambling is the current wheeze – and with no intention of going into the family business. Their daughter, Ruth, is an over-achiever, a high-flying lawyer who’s working on a UN inquiry into possible war crimes in Gaza. She’s come back to the family home for the funeral of the other son, Danny, who was a pilot out in Israel, and died in action there. There’s a lot of scope for discussion just among these four people, but we also get a young rabbi, Simon, who was once Ruth’s boyfriend, the chairman of the synagogue, Saul, whom David hopes will book his firm to do the catering for his (Saul’s) daughter’s wedding, and Stephen, the chairman of the inquiry that Ruth is working for, who drops by to leave her some entirely relevant papers on the evening of the funeral. A bit far-fetched, but that’s drama for you.

There was plenty of humour throughout the play, and although there were serious moments too, it never got preachy or too heavy. The antagonism felt in the Jewish community towards Ruth for her part in the UN investigation into potential war crimes leads Simon, and later Saul, to suggest that she stay away from the service, while David is suffering from unacknowledged guilt because he put pressure on Danny to stay in the danger zone, even though Danny himself wanted to come home. All these factors are woven together very skilfully, and the production was a delight to watch, with excellent performances all round.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

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