By Kate MulvanyDrama The Ensemble Theatre
The Rasputin Affair
St Petersburg. Winter. 1917. A group of like-minded individuals gather with a plate of pink poisoned cupcakes and a shared aim: to rid the world of one of history’s most despised characters – the mad monk Rasputin. There’s just one problem: Rasputin claims to be a messenger of God. Will Felix, Dimitri, Vlad and Minya do away with their wily nemesis once and for all … or will they all die trying?
The peccadilloes of the Russian nobility and the machinations of a con artist from the turn of the century, particularly their treatment of ‘the women’, can tell us quite a bit about society in our world today. The author tackles themes of class, sex, religion and power with a deft and witty touch. The drama is set up from the get go, the characterisations clear and the dialogue absurd yet precise, making The Rasputin Affair a work of terrific skill.
ACT 1, SCENE 2
Minya enters with the medicine bag, via a whole other disguised door.
The three men scream, then recover.
Dimitri takes the medicine bag from Minya who curtsies. He gives her a wink and she averts her gaze.
Felix notices. He glares at Minya, rings his bell and indicates for her to leave. She does so...out a different door. They are all terribly confused.
From the bag, Dimitri gets out a pair of gloves and a large syringe. He puts on the gloves and very carefully fills the syringe before injecting the cupcake with the needle. Vlad photographs it.
DIMITRI: Whatever you do...don’t eat the cupcake.
FELIX: Where did you, uh... Where did you get...The Stuff? Is that what you call it?
DIMITRI: No. You don’t call it The Stuff.
DIMITRI: I have contacts.
FELIX: What sort of contacts?
DIMITRI: The Gentleman’s Club. Filled to the brim with chemists and scientists. All sorts of pills and powders in their pockets. Got it last Friday from a very reliable source. Says one drop of this is enough to kill a horse.
Felix looks worriedly at the cupcakes.
VLAD: I was at the Gentleman’s Club on Friday. Where were you sitting?
DIMITRI: Were you? In the Swan Room.
VLAD: Damn. I wish I’d known. I was in the Falcon.
DIMITRI: You should have popped your head in.
VLAD: I know, you too. Christ.
They both sigh.
(To Felix) Wonderful picture of your brother on the wall at the Club. When did they put that up?
FELIX: What? Oh. I... I’m not really sure –
(He remains focused on the cupcake)
VLAD: All decked out in his uniform. Watching over us all. Splendid.
FELIX: He was a fine soldier. He deserves to be on the wall.
VLAD: He stayed, your brother. He stayed. While everyone around him deserted and came running home to Petrograd, he stayed. Before he got shot.
FELIX: He is much missed.
VLAD: That portrait in the Club, it’s like his eyes follow you wherever you move.
FELIX: Indeed. Indeed.
VLAD: Quite spooky, really. Did your family have it commissioned? The picture? Felix?
Silence. Felix keeps his eyes on the cupcake.
DIMITRI: Vlad...I think you’ll find Felix has not yet been invited to be a Gentleman.
VLAD: Really? Why not?
Dimitri makes a weird sound. A warning to Vlad.
Oh. Yes. Quite.
Vlad speaks as he writes.
FELIX: Look, I really don’t think you need to take down every tiny detail. This is a top-secret political act in the interests of national security. Whether or not I’m a member of a Gentlemen’s Club plays no part in tonight’s documentation.
VLAD: The Duma will want to know.
He photographs Felix.
FELIX: The Duma?
VLAD: I’m scheduled to speak in the assembly on Monday. What’s going to happen tonight will be all over the newspapers by then. They’ll expect the correct information.
DIMITRI: I heard you were being expelled from the Duma, Vlad. Something about a -
VLAD: Malicious misunderstanding. Too many young people in government these days. They don’t listen to experience. I’m going to make them listen. Let’s see them try and expel me after tonight.
FELIX: You’re going to give a speech about tonight?
DIMITRI: Don’t get cranky, Fifi.
FELIX: No, Dimitri. The only people in this world that know what we’re doing here tonight are the three of us. I’ve been planning this whole thing for months. And now Vlad swans in here and tells us he’ll be chatting about it in the Duma on Monday?
VLAD: Don’t worry. They won’t be cross. They want him gone as much as you do.
FELIX: Your duty was to assist tonight. Not take notes. Not take pictures. Not prepare speeches. Assist.
VLAD: I think I know a little more about politics than you, Felix. I’m deputy of three assemblies.
FELIX: Well, congratulations. I am a Prince.
DIMITRI: And I’m a Grand Duke. Who wins? I can never tell. (He laughs)
Silence. Minya has meanwhile entered through another door. She clears her throat. They scream. Recover.
FELIX: Yes? What?
MINYA: 116,459 dead, sir.
DIMITRI: Is that a lot? In the grand scheme of things?
The three men shrug, bow their heads and make the Orthodox sign of the cross.
MINYA: And the protesters have reached St Isaac’s Cathedral.
DIMITRI: Blasted Bolshies.
Felix rings the bell. Minya leaves through a different door. They all look confused.
VLAD: What, perchance, would happen if we did, perchance, happen to eat the cupcake? Perchance?
DIMITRI: You’d be dead within minutes.
VLAD: Minutes? Really? Not quicker?
DIMITRI: Minutes is pretty quick.
VLAD: I just thought it might be better if it was instant. I mean, if I were to accidentally eat the cupcake – I won’t, but if I did - I’d hope it was immediate. Painless. That sort of thing. We can do that sort of thing, can’t we? Nowadays? Grand Duke?
DIMITRI: We can.
VLAD: So why don’t we?
FELIX: That man? You want that man to have a painless death? Doesn’t make for much of a speech in the Duma, Vlad.
FELIX: I want him to know he’s dying. I want to look into those famous eyes and tell him, “You’re dying.” I want to see his skin turn purple. I want to hear him become confused. I want to smile as that renowned voice weakens, watch closely as he falls to the ground and foams at the mouth. I want to roll him over, put my ear to his hairy chest and hear his heart palpitate wildly. And then I want to say, “You lost” and use the next two-and-a-half minutes to watch him leave this earth and go back to wherever the hell he claims to have come from.
VLAD: So we really should avoid eating the cupcake.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist