The Rasputin Affair
by Kate Mulvany
Directed by John Sheedy
Photos by Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until April 30
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
The new era at the Ensemble Theatre is providing some curious and edgy offerings.
It’s the evening of December 29, 1916, at the Moika Palace in Petrograd and four conspirators are planning the assassination of the Mad Monk. A poisoned cup cake is the weapon of choice to dispose of Rasputin.
At the first production meeting, I can imagine director John Sheedy saying “Call Central Casting!”. The characters in this play are all interesting, passionate and eccentric.
There’s the aristocratic and slightly kinky Grand Duke Dimitri, the tsar’s cousin who tries to maintain a persona of respectability and conservatism but is worn down by Price Felix, a.k.a. “Fifi”.
As Dimitri, Hamish Michael looks like someone in a hundred-year-old royal family portrait and is ideal in this perfectly-cast piece of theatre. Felix, Dimitri’s muse, is freakily played by Tom Budge. If you think of the Master of Ceremonies in the movie, Cabaret, and take it up a few notches of creepiness, you get Felix.
Then there’s Minya (Zindzi Okenyo), the servant whose accent doesn't stay in one place until near the end when we find out why. And why does she wear dark glasses indoors, at night?
Since first seeing him on stage when I was a N.I.D.A. student in the 1970s, I’ve regarded John Gaden as one of our finest stage actors, and he again validates it. Vlad, the right wing politician, is determined to accurately record the unfolding events by taking notes and using photography, and he becomes increasingly agitated as people and situations force him out of his comfort zone.
As Rasputin, Sean O’Shea (is he the first Irishman to play this character?) has a powerful stage presence, especially in the small theatre. He’s less internally intense and more comical than the usual depictions, and this interpretation entirely suits the style of the production.
At the end of the first act, I felt that something was missing, albeit a small element. After the intermission the pace clipped along at an even faster rate.
Designer Alicia Clements’ wall of portraits reminded me of the Laugh-In wall.
The Rasputin Affair seems to have been influenced by Theatre of the Absurd and Dadaist Theatre, which was gaining popularity in Switzerland in the same time period as this play.
Some Ensemble subscribers might be used to a more ”chocolate-box theatre” style of production, and with it’s share of expletives, unconventionality and penis, The Rasputin Affair is out of that chocolate box.
The Rasputin Affair is definitely worth the visit to Kirribilli.