The Holy Rosenbergs

Published March 17, 2011

Ryan Craig’s new play examines the effect of an international crisis on a London family and the community they live in.

The crisis is Gaza and the family are the Rosenbergs, Jewish Londoners who live in Edgware. We meet them the day before the funeral of elder son Danny, a soldier who died fighting the Israeli cause. The impending burial has stirred up a potent mix of family tensions, community politics and moral standpoints that threatens to divide the Jewish community of Edgware.

The main reason for this is that Danny’s sister Ruth, a lawyer, is working on an international investigation into war crimes in Gaza – on both sides of the conflict – in order to impose some sense of morality and dignity on war. The Jewish community in Edgware sees this as a betrayal of Israel and wants her to stay away from her brother’s funeral. With parents David and Lesley desperate to secure a substantial booking for their struggling catering business, Ruth’s presence threatens to sully the Rosenberg name and ruin their livelihood.

Craig’s play is so packed with standpoints, views and ideas that it is sometimes hard to absorb it all. The relationships between the four remaining Rosenbergs – younger son Johnny completes the quartet – illuminate Jewish history and identity and explore the culture gap between an older generation whose personal history is tied to Israel and the younger generation who are British first, Jewish second. Meanwhile Craig sets up a debate on Gaza between Saul, who effectively argues the Israeli viewpoint, and Ruth’s boss Stephen, who arrives at the Rosenberg home to deliver some documents and ends up defending his moral standpoint against a barrage of emotion. On top of all this, Craig’s play is also a drama about families, and he breaks up the fraught political discussions with some comic moments that are recognisable to any family; Lesley’s insistence – to the point of force feeding – that her guests eat her macaroons is one such instance.

Staged in the round in a Cottesloe theatre that seems even more intimate than usual, Laurie Sansom’s production has the audience practically sitting in the Rosenbergs’s lounge. With a green carpet, cream leather sofas and an MFI-style entertainment unit, Jessica Curtis’s set shows David and Lesley to be as fixed on tradition as son Johnny is on throwing it off.

A uniformly fine ensemble cast is led by Henry Goodman as David, who speaks like Del Boy and has a relentless positivity that is exhausting. Blocking out the bad and clinging to his rose-tinted view of the community he feels bound to, David is a man trying to support his family against the odds. When the mask slips, Goodman effectively conveys his emotional breakdown.

While he is even-handed with his arguments, Craig doesn’t suggest any answers, and when the play concludes on Goodman’s bowed head you are simply left with the feeling that this family’s story – like the conflict in Gaza – is far from finished.

CB

Related shows