Review – Madame Rubinstein, Park Theatre

Wednesday 3 May 2017

You wait a lifetime to see Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden portrayed on stage and then you get two in a row.

Well for Andrew anyhoo. It was just over a week since he saw the musical War Paint (with Patti Lupone as HR and Christine Ebersole as EA) on the actual Broadway. What are the chances?

So this is Jez Bond‘s production of Madame Rubinstein, the almost non-singing, certainly non-dancing account by John Misto with Miriam Margolyes and Frances Barber as the the two grandes dames of cosmetics.

It’s a fictitious account of the two women’s conflicts and their relationship even though they never actually met. Their rivalry is apparently documented in the 2009 feature documentary, The Powder and the Glory. Andrew will be getting instructions to seek it out for a screening forthwith.

Patrick or “Irish” (Jonathan Forbes, Sharon’s brother in Catastrophe) is an, err, Irish man (most convincing accent of the 3 performers unsurprisingly) who persuades Rubinstein to hire him to help prevent industrial espionage and ends up as her factotum. Rubinstein is portrayed as an irascible, cheapskate manipulator who waddles around weighed down by envy and bling and keeps a leg of chicken in her office safe as it saves buying a fridge. Somehow Margolyes makes her endearing. Almost.

Arden drifts in and out plotting and competing with her to find a waterproof mascara. That’s when the two aren’t volleying barbs at each other. It’s the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? of the cosmetics world. If Barber doesn’t get to play Bette Davis one day then it’s an affront to the gay community.*

The set-up may be false but we assume the detail is based on fact. A quick bit of research dug up the Graham Sutherland portrait that’s referred to – but not shown – in the play (right). There’s an argument that the Great Ladies of Slap, in their own way, empowered (must you use that word? – Ed) women long before The Spice Girls.

The jokes keep coming. Some are as clumsy as the between-scenes furniture-shifting but if you’re a connoisseur of high camp you’ll find enough to make you chortle.

After the last 3 marathon shows Phil witnessed this feels relatively nippy at 2 hours 10 minutes. And, like those plays, it sold out before it even opened. Expect a transfer at some point.

It’s almost as entertaining as that Diane Abbott interview.

*Ok. Yes, Barber already did Bette in Psychobitches.



One Response to “Review – Madame Rubinstein, Park Theatre”

  1. Billy Says:

    What an amusing review – was wondering if during the proceedings Dame Miriam blew off any noisy explosions of intestinal gas, as is her constant habit, according to her own proud admission on the Graham Norton show?

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