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Friday 27 May 2011

The Holy Rosenbergs, Drama by Ryan Craig, National Theatre London, Cottesloe, 1* out of 5

The Rosenbergs are a London based Jewish family with big troubles. Mother Lesley and father David Rosenberg's kosher catering business which the family has run for generations is in terminal decline because of a food poisoning scandal. Danny Rosenberg, their son, the Israeli Aircraft pilot has just been killed over Gaza. His funeral is tomorrow (but seeing the behaviour of the family on the eve of the funeral, that aspect seems like a sort of side-plot). The younger Rosenberg-son, Johnny, who does not want to join his dad's catering business, is in trouble, too. He likes to pick bar-fights in pubs in order to get himself beaten up. On the eve of his brother's funeral he is off to set up a gambling website on the internet and to meet friends in the pub and get himself beaten up again. Life for him, the ex-art student is hard: his brother was an Israeli war-hero and he himself is just a shmuck. Admittedly, one with a lot more understanding of himself and the other family members than the rest of his family. The confluence of all this would already yield enough brain numbing implausibility for several episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful.

But it is only the start: because what the author thought was missing at this stage was a Bridget Jones without the weight problem and only a hint of a love interest or two. This character is Ruth, a lawyer and the sister of the dead pilot. And there is the White Knight from the UN Human Rights Council, the half Scottish half English International Lawyer Mr. Crossley (not D'Arcy but close) fighting the forces of evil: Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

The Jewish community of the Rosenberg's synagogue is outraged by Ruth being involved in the war crime investigation. So they send the Rabbi and the head of the Community to put pressure on her father to persuade her not be present at her brother's funeral. Otherwise there might be protests at the funeral.

Surely, Danny the fighter pilot and dead scion of the Edgware Rosenbergs, deluded kosher caterers to the Jewish multitude, will not turn out to be an Israeli war criminal? I know, you can't wait to find out!

The messages of the drama, as I could discern them are: understand the poor Jews in our midst, they do not own dogs because they think they have to quickly escape the next holocaust; and they are thinking: “if we had to leave the dog behind that would be terrible for the dog; better not have one in the first place”. That concern may seem burden enough, but there's more. Jews are represented in the world by a state that is supposed to be civilized like the United Kingdom. But this state doesn't have a concept of the need for justice and the rule of International Law (that state is Israel and it has a prison camp called Gaza, which it bombs regularly, as Mr Crossley explains). But hey, thank God there's Britain with its Crossleys and d'Arcys and the odd confused Jewish daughter of a caterer from Edgware to show Israel the light.

I imagine Ryan Craig wanted to write an outraged piece against Israeli actions in Gaza for the Guardian's “Comment is Free” website when he had the unfortunate brainwave to write a didactic play in stead: “Goldstone-Report” meets “Bridget Jones” and caters “Barmitzwah Boy”. How any theatre, let alone the National, would agree to put on the resulting inane play is another question I would rather not contemplate. I suggest the responsible parties be sent regularly to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, which knows a thing or two about creating high quality productions of political plays.

The Holy Rosenbergs is the worst play I have seen in nearly forty years of visits to the National Theatre – and I have seen some pretty poor ones, although only rarely. One must feel sorry for the excellent actors for having to perform in it night after night.

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