Balliol’s latest annual charity show, Rasputin, doesn’t sound exactly promising in concept. When you hear ‘student-written comedy-musical based on unstable early 20th century Russian politics’ it doesn’t scream success. It certainly succeeds on stage, though.
Throughout Act 1 we are treated to the introduction of the Romanov royal family and their court as you’ve never seen them before. First, comes the foppishly clueless – and equally hilarious – Tsar Nicholas II. His wife, Tsarina Alexandra, presents in gloriously undisguised drag, sporting an extraordinary German accent. Their quickly star-crossed daughter Olga and her equally infatuated Sergei, amidst this hammed-up joy, make a surprisingly sweet couple. Then, of course, came Rasputin and his (her) entourage of self-proclaimed ‘sex-monks’. Here, the music really kicks into gear; I don’t think anyone could have predicted a classically styled Broadway number all about orthodoxy – complete with kick line – would ever be produced to any, let alone this much, laughter.
Alongside Prince Felix, a thinly veiled and lovably executed rip-off of Black Adder’s character Flasheart (all the thrusting, innuendo, and rakish charm included), a host of other smaller roles and songs flesh out the first half beautifully. However, Act 2 ushers in Lenin and Trotsky. Never, perhaps, has Oxford played host to such humour, camaraderie, and chaos concentrated in two people. These two are comedic dynamite, even – in fact, especially – when things go somewhat wrong. My highlight might well have been the point at which Lenin, searching for his next proletarian follower, knows the one he’s looking for must be somewhere because, and I quote, “it says so in my script!”
I don’t want to ruin any of the jokes, they’re best experienced fresh. Fair warning that many are not for the easily offended, but they are certainly delivered with the utmost gusto. I’m also sure, having had a few moments peak into Tuesday’s last-minute rehearsals, that the anarchic nightly ‘fluctuations’ in the smooth running of the script will almost certainly continue. And all the better for it! Topping this messy masterpiece off are a very talented band, a some genuinely well written music (I’ll say no more than Marx’s solo number), an excellently chosen medley of sound, and a cast you can tell are having the time of their lives.
Rasputin continues at the Michael Pilch Studio until Saturday 7th March.