15 June 2011 0


It is indeed a privilege to live in London. I am not writing this because of the razzmatazz around the royal wedding. No, I refer to the immensely rich cultural life of an ever vibrant city. I experienced the most rewarding treat when I saw the play The Holy Rosenburgs by Ryan Craig at the National Theatre. The reward was two-fold: the play was an absolute delight to see. But we just bought tickets at the last minute to see a play we knew nothing about. The lottery paid off. Try it the next time.

The set places the spectators peering down over a living room in Edgware, North London. And for two hours of sheer pleasure, one is fascinated, a bit like a scientist by what unsuspected life he discovers under the microscope. This Jewish family is both familiar and an unravelling of a surprising narrative of inner conflicts, reflecting the larger picture of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The father, played with gusto by Henry Goodman, is a crumbling pillar at the heart of an urban tragedy. For the action is so contemporary that it hurts. The playwright Ryan Craig deserves credit for a superb piece of theatre craft.

David Rosenburg is torn between the good intentions of the average father who wants the best for his family, and the need to be accepted by a demanding Jewish community. The social pressure from the Rosenburg peers makes North London stifling. The elder son, Danny, has died as an Israeli soldier and the funeral is due the next day. Ruth, the daughter, a principled lawyer, has arrived from Geneva where she has been investigating Israel war crimes in Gaza. A younger brother, Jonny, rebels against everything and anything, especially against whatever Dad may want for him. Lesley, the mother, is performed by Susannah Wise as a sort of a conscious punching ball at the centre of her own home. At one point, it is too much and she faints, relieving the tension for the spectators in the process. Business is tough for David the caterer who has to suffer the disgrace of a second demeaning job, just to keep the great line of the Rosenburg family at the right standard. Not good enough, decides the community, less sensitive to the sacrifice of the hero son than to the betrayal of the barrister daughter.

To some extent, the Rosenburgs family is not different to any other family. But what a lesson about the use of theatre in the treatment of sensitive issues of the times! The more controversial the issue, the more worthwhile the challenge. Provided, of course, the climate is right for the spectator to have access to good theatre and for the voiceless to be given a voice. Contrary to its unpredictable weather, London is constant in creating such a climate for free expression and innovation.
Ryan Craig succeeds in displaying the arguments pro and against the politics of Israel and Hamas, thanks to strong articulate characters, all of whom convincingly expose views that, to some extent, impact upon your life and my life. This is great drama for the 21st century. One leaves the Cottlesloe theatre by the Thames, with the feeling of a profoundly disturbing evening, yet emotionally rich, relishing every minute spent around a meal at one’s neighbours, the Rosenburgs.

Daniel Labonne
London. 7.5.2011