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The Holy Rosenbergs

Published Thursday 17 March 2011 at 12:35 by Ben Dowell

It is the eve of the funeral of Danny, the eldest Rosenberg son who died fighting for the Israel Defense Force in Gaza. The more extreme elements of Edgware’s Jewish community are threatening to protest at the presence of the dead man’s sister Ruth, who is part of a UN investigation into the Israeli military. Worse still, the ensuing ugliness is also threatening the kosher catering business of Henry Goodman’s blustery paterfamilias David.

Susannah Wise (Ruth) and Henry Goodman (David) in The Holy Rosenbergs at the National, Cottesloe

Susannah Wise (Ruth) and Henry Goodman (David) in The Holy Rosenbergs at the National, Cottesloe Photo: Johan Persson

And while all this is played out in a typical-seeming, north London Jewish living room (impeccable, loving design from Jessica Curtis), Ryan Craig is clearly playing with explosive ingredients. Thankfully, he is more than up to the challenge of using his family drama to expound on the political without seeming contrived. He is also unafraid to lob the grenade of a house call from Ruth’s boss, Stephen Boxer’s suavely idealistic English human rights lawyer.

Fierce rhetorical debates about Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself can often stifle drama and get nowhere, but here the arguments ignite the play. This is because Craig faithfully paints a world where political ideas and ideals and feelings intercorrelate - none more so than on the question of the Jewish homeland.

The impact is intense, if a little exhausting. We are kept captivated by Laurie Sansom’s sensitive but also energetic direction, which teases out first-rate performances, especially from Goodman. Opening with the frantic energy of a man desperate not to face up to his tragedy (and abandonment by his beloved community), these layers are skillfully peeled away to produce something which becomes as moving as it is thought-provoking.

Production information

Cottesloe, National, London, March 17-June 24

Ryan Craig
Laurie Sansom
National Theatre
Cast includes:
Philip Arditti, Stephen Boxer, Paul Freeman, Henry Goodman, Tilly Tremayne, Susannah Wise, Alex Waldmann
Running time:
2hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014