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The Rubenstein Kiss review at Nottingham Playhouse – ‘powerful, sobering and thought-provoking’

The Rubenstein Kiss at Nottingham Playhouse. Photo: Robert Day

Part of the Conspiracy Season at Nottingham Playhouse, James Phillips’ high-intensity drama is based on the real-life story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Communist idealists executed in McCarthyist America in 1953 for allegedly passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

It is set against the grubby backdrop of a mushroom cloud and punctuated with soaring arias from Puccini. Knowing the inevitable outcome of the story for Jakob and Esther Rubenstein makes it hard to watch at times. Their feverish, prolonged and overwhelmingly clumsy embrace after two years of physical separation is the most highly charged moment in the play, a physical expression of all the moral dilemmas it poses. Are ideas more important than lives? If you have to make a choice, who do you betray?

Katherine Manners plays the opera-loving Esther with an energy, mischief and joyfulness that yields to fierce bravery and defiance. It is a consummate performance. Joe Coen is the intense and studious Jakob, burdened with the responsibility of being a survivor. His interrogation by the clever and confident lawyer, Paul Cranmer (Cornell S John), is masterly in its rising dynamic and ultimate choice: “Confess and live. That’s the deal.”

Nicely paced, there is a Montague and Capulet element to the story in the meeting, in 1976, of two bright and appealing young people, Matthew (Simon Haines) and Anna (Gillian Saker). Mark Field is the ebullient and defensive David Girshfeld and Ellie Burrow the gentle Rachel Liebermann. A searing evening, with resonance of course for our own troubled times.

Powerful, sobering and thought-provoking drama

Production Information

The Rubenstein Kiss
Nottingham Playhouse
October 2, 2015
October 17, 2015, then touring until October 31, 2015
Press night
October 6, 2015
James Phillips
Zoe Waterman
Bronia Housman
Richard G Jones
Edward Lewis
Julia Locascio (assistant director)
Cast includes
Joe Coen, Katherine Manners, Mark Field, Ellie Burrow, Cornell S John, Simon Haines, Gillian Saker
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
Running time
2hrs 45mins