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Theatre review: Madame Rubinstein is Witty, but the effect is largely cosmetic


Madame Rubinstein

Park Theatre, London


MIRIAM MARGOLYES is recognisably herself as Harry Potter’s ‘dumpy little witch’ Professor Sprout, but less so as 1950s Manhattan cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein. Her hair is wrenched into a jet-black bun; the cheeks are blushed, the lashes mascara-ed.

It’s not hard to see what drew Margolyes to the title role of this witty Polish-Jewish immigrant in John Misto’s play. His fictional version of events focuses on two people in her life: rival Elizabeth Arden, terrifically played by Silk star Frances Barber, and Rubinstein’s confidant Patrick O’Higgins, (quietly charismatic Jonathan Forbes).

Both relationships are intriguing. Between Arden and Rubinstein, a friendship evolves out of hostility. With O’Higgins, an outsiders’ alliance between gay Irishman and Jewish immigrant.

But Misto’s play is infuriatingly constructed from scenes that end with pithy one-liners, usually before they reach a dramatic climax. And so rather than getting to the play’s themes, Jez Bond’s production skirts over their surface. Much like one of Rubinstein’s face creams.