It’s been years since his last outing as a playwright, but this time round Fringe stalwart Richard Herring isn’t just appearing as a comedian, but has also written a play. And it’s certainly got an interesting premise – it’s about a bizarre but real-life figure, the cross-dressing Prince Felix Yusupov, better known as the man who killed Rasputin. Despite the promise though, the plot is all over the place, and although it’s funny in places many of the jokes run on too long.
Fifty years after Rasputin’s death, a Don-Draper-esque American journalist named Mr Halliday is attempting to interview the flamboyant Prince and his wife Irina (who now live as exiles in Paris). A film about Rasputin is due to be released, and Halliday is interested in sorting out the fact from the fiction regarding the assassination – important issues such as whether Yusupov really did cut off the monk’s penis. But he’s repeatedly interrupted by a slightly dizzying array of characters, including Stalin, Hitler and a French Hermetic Magician.
Then of course there’s Rasputin himself, who himself frequently pops onto the stage in the guise of Russia’s greatest love machine – getting it on with anyone who is near him and shouting ‘who wants to see my cock’, which actually works rather well. The prince is haunted by him, and says ‘why won’t you die’ pretty much every time he’s on stage. That gets a bit stale by the end, as does the bawdiness, which often ends up being laboured.
It’s a brave production that gets some laughs, but as a piece of theatre it needs tidying up – reducing the time by 20 minutes would be a start, and purging some of the random character appearances would create more momentum. It could have been much slicker if it were simplified. Saying that, some fundamental aspects did work well, such as the contrast of Prince Felix (a relic left over from a bygone age) with the glossy modernity of the staunchly republican Mr Haliday.
I wanted to enjoy this production, but it just never reached its full scope and it needs some substantial honing. Still, it made me interested enough in the characters to have a Wikipedia session afterwards – and yes, the colourful Prince Felix Yusupov really was stranger than fiction.