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

REVIEW

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.