DNA Magazine - - CONTENT -

EVA PERON, Gypsy Rose Lee, Fanny Brice and Maria von Trapp are ex­am­ples of women whose sto­ries were larger than life and suited the ex­ag­ger­ated the­atri­cal­ity of a stage adap­ta­tion.

He­lena Ru­bin­stein is an­other such fig­ure with Patti LuPone cur­rently play­ing the famed cos­meti­cian on Broad­way in War Paint, a mu­si­cal high­light­ing the ri­valry be­tween her­self and fel­low cos­metic gi­ant, Elizabeth Ar­den. But there’s an­other pro­duc­tion, cur­rently play­ing in Syd­ney, called Lip Ser­vice. Star­ring Amanda Mug­gle­ton (Shirley Valen­tine, TV’s Pris­oner) as Ru­bin­stein, with Tim Draxl (A Place To Call Home) as her per­sonal as­sis­tant and con­fi­dante Pa­trick ‘Ir­ish’ O’Hig­gins.

The story fo­cuses on the threat Ru­bin­stein’s busi­ness faced against her ri­vals Revlon and Elizabeth Ar­den (played by Lin­den Wilkin­son of Packed To The Rafters), but a greater fo­cus falls on her re­la­tion­ship with as­sis­tant Pa­trick who draws out her more vul­ner­a­ble and sen­si­tive side.

Writ­ten by John Misto (The Shoe-Horn Sonata), this new Aus­tralian play opened in April at Lon­don’s Park The­atre un­der the ti­tle Madame Ru­bin­stein (due to a sim­i­lar and con­flict­ing show name), with Miriam Mar­golyes in the ti­tle role.

Ap­par­ently the two great ri­vals never met in real life, but Misto imag­ines what feuds might have passed be­tween them if they had, and whether there was any sense of sis­ter­hood.

What many don’t re­alise is that He­lena Ru­bin­stein orig­i­nally founded her busi­ness and

She was fear­less, bru­tally hon­est and mean fi­nan­cially. That’s how she be­came one of Aus­tralia’s first mil­lion­aires.”

made her name in re­gional Aus­tralia. Hav­ing mi­grated from Poland in 1902 to the Vic­to­rian town of Col­eraine, she pro­duced and sold her face cream to many ea­ger Aus­tralian women. With the ba­sic in­gre­di­ent be­ing lano­lin, and in and a coun­try full of sheep, it was the per­fect time and place to build a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar em­pire.

For Amanda Mug­gle­ton, play­ing Ru­bin­stein is a chal­lenge, given that her char­ac­ter is a fa­mous real-life per­son.

“As an ac­tor, play­ing some­one who ac­tu­ally ex­isted is a greater chal­lenge than usual,” says Mug­gle­ton. “There’ll be plenty of peo­ple who will re­mem­ber He­lena Ru­bin­stein and some who may have met her, and they’ll all have opin­ions. You want to do the per­son you’re play­ing jus­tice, but to also tell the truth.

“I was very sur­prised at how tough and dom­i­neer­ing she was. She was fear­less, bru­tally hon­est and mean fi­nan­cially. But, she had to be in what was then a man’s world. That’s how she be­came one of Aus­tralia’s first mil­lion­aires.”

In­for­ma­tion on Ru­bin­stein’s per­sonal life was hard to re­search but Mug­gle­ton even­tu­ally tracked down a dis­tant source.

“While in Lon­don I had a cup of tea with the niece of ‘Ir­ish’. It was in­valu­able for my de­vel­op­ment as she had met Ru­bin­stein on sev­eral oc­ca­sions and had many pri­vate photos and anec­dotes to share. Ru­bin­stein had a strong ac­cent, which is also a chal­lenge, and was rather plump so I wear a padded cos­tume which is quite hot. Thank good­ness it’s win­ter here!”

The play charts Ruben­stein’s story from her hum­ble be­gin­nings to the height of her in­ter­na­tional suc­cess. Di­rec­tor Ni­cole Buf­foni (A His­tory Of Fall­ing Things) brings the three ac­tors to­gether with great bitchy hu­mour. Yet there is ten­der­ness – we learn that Pa­trick is clos­et­ted and lonely, and that Ruben­stein mourns a lost child.

“The play’s topic is so fas­ci­nat­ing and the makeup wars are still go­ing on to­day,” says Mug­gle­ton. “To think she was one of the pioneers of this multi­bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try at a time when only whores and ac­tors wore make-up!”

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