I Killed Rasputin

The acting is exquisite. Some of the dialogue is extraordinary. So why does I Killed Rasputin feel so limp? Richard Herring’s script argues that whenever history is retold it comes with a sense of theatre. So it is odd that the script itself so often lacks precisely that sense of theatre. The play tells the tale of an American journalist, EM Halliday, trying to learn how Rasputin really died from the lips of Prince Yusipov, who according to history, rumour or just sheer fantasy, ordered the murder. The story that emerges is full of humour and intrigue but it lacks coherence. The result is that while individual scenes might be entertaining (which they are) the play as a whole is unsatisfying.

The script relies upon characters who rarely reach beyond their own clichéd origins.

The devil is in the detail and the script too often gets bogged down in it. Esoteric knowledge from here, there and everywhere flies at the audience, eventually drowning them in a pool of trivia. As various conspiracies and versions of the official story arise we struggle against a confusing narrative and a wealth of interesting but irrelevant knowledge. The far simpler questions of what these characters want or what they have done are left muddied and muddled by a historical context too overdone to make dramatic sense.

The script relies upon characters who rarely reach beyond their own clichéd origins. There is the slick journalist, the decadent aristocrat, the conservative wife, none of whom are given any original twist. What saves these characters is the acting. Joseph Chance is a stand out as Halliday, the fast talking and fast thinking American who is keen for the truth and even keener for a good story. Joanna Griffin is also terrific, bringing skill and grace to the stage in all sorts of roles.

The cast and story do their best work in odd little vignettes. Flashbacks that might work well as standalone sketches prompt giddy laughter. Silhouette scenes that act almost like silent comedy films are blazingly funny. But these are unfortunately the exception to the rule. The denouement when it comes is protracted and fails to tie the narrative together.

I Killed Rasputin, like its eponymous hero, is hard to nail down. Strong elements mix with weak to provide a fun if never stirring experience.

Reviews by Rory Mackenzie

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The Blurb

A new play by Richard Herring. American journalist EM Halliday visits the aged Russian Prince and conspirator in the murder of Rasputin, Felix Yusupov, improbably still alive in 1967. The former richest man in Russia, now reduced to making money from his tall tale, is haunted by the Mad Monk, who even 50 years on refuses to die. Will Yusupov finally reveal the truth? ‘I don't know of an instant in modern history where so many reputable as well as disreputable historians have solemnly repeated such a patently improbable story as if it were gospel’ (EM Halliday).