Andrew Hobb’s Rasputin Rocks, with music by Alistair Smith, has opened at The Stockwell Playhouse. With moments of comedy and an enjoyable score it will certainly appeal to some audiences, while others will be left baffled by the events unfolding in front of them.
Set in the ‘near-future’, where Russia has conquered most of Europe, and the terminally ill Empress is set on destroying the world. A small group of resistance fighters keep up the struggle, and the United Nations sends peace envoy, Tony Blair, to sort things out. Not content with her already considerable power, The Empress thaws out the infamous Rasputin from his ice prison to aid her in the final stages of her plan.
This is firmly a tongue in cheek satire, though it does struggle to find it’s natural genre, as you’re left unsure as to whether the cast are playing it straight or not. Too often it feels like a forgotten episode of ‘Allo, Allo’, not least for the questionable accents, but also for the plot which reaches pantomime proportions.
The score itself is enjoyable, with a real rock vibe which has been crafted to work well in a musical theatre setting. The main issue was sound, the very talented band played with such vigour that it was almost impossible to hear what was being sung, though some troublesome microphones didn’t help matters. The sound issues meant that entire songs passed by without adding to the story line, often leaving the already absurd plot even more baffling.
The only cast member who was truly able to make herself heard was Tanya Truman, as resistance fighter Svetlana. Truman has a powerful voice, and it was a welcome relief whenever it was time for her to perform, she is lucky enough to enjoy a good mix of songs, from upbeat to gentle ballad.
Jake Byrom, as Rasputin, also fared better than most, again he has strong vocals which carried well, and he did his upmost to get the audience engaged. His first number ‘Mad Monk Rock’ looked set to be a turning point in the show, but ultimately it failed to make any material difference.
Despite the futuristic setting, Rasputin Rocks, feels incredibly dated. Tony Blair is still a recent enough figure in political history to allow for some amusing jokes, but the prominence of the character’s role here seems so out of place, as do the constant references to old movies, and faded famous faces. The Blair character also gets a song, a parody of Jarvis Cocker’s Common People, which sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the rock score.
Rasputin Rocks seems to have struggled to decide whether it wanted to be a rock opera, pantomime, or political satire. It looks as if it’s attempted to be all three, and for that reason doesn’t manage to achieve what it could have. The songs are strong enough to give Rasputin Rocks a credible shot, but the dated script fails to rouse the audience.
Photos by Zac Cooke.