I Killed Rasputin - 4**** - One4Review
On 03, Aug 2014
I Killed Rasputin
We’ve all heard of Rasputin, right? Even if you’re not an eager scholar of Russian revolutionary politics in the early 20th century, there’s no way you could have escaped the précis of his life performed by 70s disco dazzlers Boney M? I have an interest in both the collapse of the Tsarist regime and ridiculous pop music, so was looking forward to seeing I Killed Rasputin, a new play by Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.
The play is centred around the interview of the aging Russian Prince Felix Yuspov (played by Nichola McAuliffe) by American journalist EM Halliday (Joseph Chance) – the latter keen to uncover the exact role the former had in the infamous murder of the mad monk in 1916. The story goes that Rasputin died multiple times before he…well…died. He was fed cakes and wine laced with cyanide, shot at multiple times, beaten, possibly castrated and then, eventually, drowned. Kind of. Unsurprisingly, Halliday is at pains to uncover whether or not this story represents the reality of the assassination.
We pick up events in 1967, in Paris, where the once ‘richest man in Russia’ is now living off past glories, keen to relive his part in the murder of Rasputin whilst simultaneously insisting that there is so much more to him. Nevertheless, the representation on stage that he is still haunted by the ghost of Rasputin 50 years on suggests that whatever part he had to play in the assassination has become fundamental to his psyche.
The beauty of the interview structure that is at the core of the play is that it allows Herring to jump back and forth through Russian history, examining subjects from the collapse of Tsarist Russia, the privilege of the aristocracy and the role of sexuality in both the life of the Prince and Rasputin. There is also a questioning of the different perceptions of Rasputin, was he really such a malignant force or just a bit of a hippy?
The powerful performances from the cast manage to keep this work from ever turning into a dry history lesson. McAuliffe and Chance provide a strong grounding from the beginning, with the affected Prince cheating and peacocking his way around Halliday’s blunter questioning. They are ably assisted by a strong supporting cast who burst in and out of doors, appear behind windows, and always add a vibrancy to the events being played out.
However, whilst there is a nice wit about the play there are points at where the humour appears a little jarring. In particular, a gag about muffs is laboured and some of the more visually puerile elements only serve to pull you out of what is otherwise a thoroughly engaging piece of theatre. And engaged you have to be, as the pace of the narrative builds to layer on theory after theory, supposition after supposition, meaning that the declarative I Killed Rasputin of the title is not as clear-cut as you might have hoped.
Oh, those Russians…
Reviewed by Diane
Assembly George Square Theatre – 15.35 (80 minutes)