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The Rasputin Affair

Lynne Lancaster

Mulvany's play is a fictional imagining of what happened the night of Rasputin's murder.
The Rasputin Affair

Tom Budge, Zindzi Okenyo, Sean O'Shea, Hamish Michael and John Gaden in The Rasputin Affair. Photograph by Prudence Upton.

 

Sorry fellow audience members I was most disappointed in this play. Individually the elements were splendid and it has a great cast (Sean O’Shea as Rasputin is superb) but it seems to be two plays – one for Rasputin and one for everyone else.

The Rasputin Affair is an uneasy blend of comedy and ‘what might have happened‘. Scenes become cumbersome as characters unveil their individual dramas and concerns. Mulvany attempts to channel Stoppard or Moliere perhaps but it doesn’t quite work. The play utilises the comic style of farce while not exactly being in that style.There are revelation after revelations of unexpected twists in the plot sand broadly sketched performances.

Mulvany’s play is set in the Moika Palace in Petrograd, on the fateful evening in December, 1916 when Rasputin – the ‘mad monk‘ a self-proclaimed religious healer and confidant of the Tsar and Tsarina – is murdered by a group of Russian nobles. Some of the rumours about his poisoning and subsequent shooting are fairly bizarre. Rasputin’s real character and life is just as mysterious as his death – with little confirmed about his religious practices, early life as a peasant, or his influence over the Romanovs and in Russian politics.

Much of the first act revolves around a pink cupcake, which has been injected with cyanide, and the frantic attempts of the conspirators to allay Rasputin’s (Sean O’Shea) suspicions and convince him to take a bite of the deadly cupcake.

The conspirators are: the unconventional, tense and very highly-strung Prince Felix Yusupov (Tom Budge); the narcissitic, stylish and debonair Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (Hamish Michael) and Vlad (John Gaden) who is loosely based on far-right politician Vladimir Purishkevich. Vlad attempts to document the event with his camera ‘for proof’, and at critical points in the murder attempt, Vlad takes photos and the camera bulb lights up the theatre each time.

The cupcake was made by Felix’s maid Minya (exuberantly played by Zindzi Okenyo). As a maid she has no real social standing in Russia, and it becomes apparent she is not who she appears to be.

Individually the actors are terrifically cast and perform with enormous vibrancy and enthusiasm. John Sheedy the director, with a sure touch establishes and maintains the play’s fast pace. Costumes by Alicia Clements are extravagant and slickly appropriate. The opulent set design (like a room at the Hermitage) is a terrific invocation of late Tsarist Russia, with lots of sliding doors and fake panels and paintings, allowing for fluid exits and entrances and visual comedy as well as people viewing and  commenting on the action downstairs in the room and an extended discussion for Felix and Dimitri.   

Shaun O’Shea as bearded Rasputin in black is incredible, delivering a brilliant, charismatic, imposing and commanding performance. Tom Budge as Felix gives a sharply observed, delightfully comic performance. Hamish Michael has a wonderful time as swaggering, oily Grand Duke Dimitri. With John Gaden delivering a beautifully nuanced, understated performance as Vlad.

Zindzi Okenyo gleefully reveals many layers as the chameleon-like femme fatale Minya, (so far as I am aware, Minya is an entirely fictional character).

The ending is cyclical and rather neatly wraps everything up.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

The Rasputin Affair

Written by Kate Mulvany

FROM: APRIL 1
DIRECTED BY: JOHN SHEEDY
CAST INCLUDES: 
TOM BUDGE
JOHN GADEN
HAMISH MICHAEL
ZINDZI OKENYO
SEAN O'SHEA

POST SHOW Q&A
WEDNESDAY, 12 APRIL 8:15PM
WEDNESDAY, 26 APRIL 11:00AM

AUDIO DESCRIBED PERFORMANCES
WEDNESDAY, 26 APRIL 8:15PM
FRIDAY, 28 APRIL 11:00AM
SATURDAY, 29 APRIL 5:00PM

FREE TEEN NIGHT
THURSDAY, 27 APRIL 8:15PM

 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.

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