Kate Mulvany’s latest play, THE RASPUTIN AFFAIR, at the Ensemble Theatre, is a vibrant and farcical recount of the death of the villainous tyrant and ‘Mad Monk’, Grigori Rasputin.
The story begins in St Petersburg, Russia in the winter of 1917. A pink cupcake is being prepared, injected with cyanide, by the daft but wicked nobles, Felix, Dimitri and the camera-mad, balmy Vlad. Assisted by their maid Minya, they lure Rasputin to the Moika Palace to poison him. They are anything but adept and their victim is much stronger than they imagined.
What follows is a hilarious, larger than life romp. The nobles would qualify for ‘Upper Class Twits of the Year’ and Minya, also half-starking mad, unwittingly takes orders. Vlad wears his camera and at dangerously crucial points in the murder attempt, continues to click, as the camera bulb lights up the theatre each time, a brilliant addition to the play.
Rasputin, dressed like the Black Monk, arrives in a cloak of majestic charisma and evil dignity. He is the great manipulator, making it almost impossible for this clan of buffoons to assassinate him.
Kate Mulvany has done a wonderful job of making this enigmatic, dark story so workable and entertaining on stage, aided and abetted by director John Sheedy, who has brought amazing energy and humour to the play. The pace is fast, perhaps very occasionally too much so, but this works in keeping the audience on their toes.
This ‘grand satire of the aristocrat’ is reminiscent of Blandings, the BBC adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s dotty character, Lord Emsworth, with similar grandiose performances.
The actors are beautifully cast and, individually, bring so much eccentricity and zing to their characterisations.
Tom Budge plays Felix, the prince who could have walked off the set of the Young Ones. He is refreshingly crazy and bold and brings fire to his character.
John Gaden is very amusing as Vlad, the vague, crazy old nobleman bent on revenge. Vlad is of German descent (as was the Tsarina, Alexandria – Rasputin’s ally – which increased her unpopularity). They tease Vlad about this in the play.
Hamish Michael is charming as Dimitri, the nobleman who is slightly more sane than the others. Hamish has a contagious warmth and vitality.
Sean O’Shea is a commanding Rasputin with his wonderful, resonant voice and smooth flirtatiousness. He is wicked and intimidating with the spark of humour that his character needs.
Zindzi Okenyo has great physical presence on stage as Minya. She is funny and mischievous, but is also mysterious.
Everything about this production – including the dazzling lighting by Matthew Marshall, the brilliant set design by Alicia Clements and great sound and wardrobe by Neil McLean and Alana Canceri – lends itself to the formidable and contagious comedic style that keeps its audience intrigued.
THE RASPUTIN AFFAIR is playing at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, until Sunday 30th April, 2017.