Review: Madame Rubinstein

A play about cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein fails to convince our critic


Miriam Margolyes apparently discovered John Misto’s play in Australia and saw in it the perfect role for her brand of charismatic eccentricity. You can see why.

Margolyes plays Helena Rubinstein, the Polish born Jewish cosmetics queen of 1950s Manhattan who, in Misto’s fictional version of events, became an ally and friend of fierce business rival Elizabeth Arden (Frances Barber) and minder Patrick O’Higgins (Jonathan Forbes), the Irish, gay WWII veteran who became Rubinstein's unlikely confidant.

With died black hair wrenched back like a flamenco dancer, Margolyes cuts an intimidating figure and that’s before her Madame Rubinstein mercilessly directs her armoury of Yiddish insults to anyone who displeases her or dishes out such doubtful wisdom as “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

Along with the Sara Kestelman’s fictional Yetta at the Hampstead Theatre this is the second ruthless Jewish businesswoman to be depicted on the London stage in as many months. Margolyes reveals the vulnerability beneath this immigrant's mantle of survivor instincts. But the sense here is that Margolyes was so taken by her juicy character (also the subject of a Broadway musical) she and her director Jez Bond failed to notice that Misto’s script is largely constructed from a series of infuriatingly underwritten scenes. 

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