I Killed Rasputin

Richard Herring – An Appreciation



We’re in Edinburgh and we’ve just been to an official launch party at the Assembly Rooms and in just two days, Ed Fest 2015 kicks off in earnest. For us, it’s always one of the most exciting, one of the most essential times of the year and yet here at Bouquets and Brickbats, we are unable to shake off the profound sense that something is missing; because this is the first year in absolutely ages that Richard Herring isn’t doing the Edinburgh Festival.

Let me explain. I am a relative latecomer to the fringe. The very first year I came to it (2010), pretty much the first thing Susan, my daughter Grace and I saw was Christ on A Bike: The Second Coming, Herring’s scurrilous take on the bible and the teachings of the Messiah. To say we loved the show would be an understatement. Indeed, I laughed so much I was in danger of giving myself a hernia.

Every year after that, our first task on arriving in Edinburgh was to book to see whatever Herring’s current show happened to be. Last year, we had a double delight. Not only was he performing Lord Of The Dance Settee, he had also written and produced a play, I Killed Rasputin, a surprisingly serious but rather enjoyable historical piece that was clearly a result of his obsession with ‘Russia’s famous love machine.’ We enjoyed and reviewed both shows, but Herring’s daily blog later revealed that he’d actually lost a lot of money at the festival. Of course, everyone loses money at Edinburgh, but this was a major loss– something like fifty grand – and he was thinking very seriously about not turning up the following year. We were pretty dubious about this claim. After all, Herring was the ‘King of the Fringe.’ Of course he’d be there. He had to be.

But matters were compounded when earlier this year Herring’s wife, children’s author Catie Wilkins gave birth to the couple’s first child and Herring found himself reluctant to be too far away from his daughter. So this year, instead of coming to Edinburgh, he’s decided to perform all twelve of his Edinburgh shows – plus a brand new one – over six weekends at the Leicester Square Theatre. It’s a positively Herculean task and one that is entirely typical of the man who must have a valid claim to being the ‘hardest working comedian in history.’

So, if you’re in London and you’re available to see some (or indeed all) of his Leicester Square shows, do go along and see what he has to offer. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll witness a breadth of invention that will stagger you. Meanwhile, in the vibrant buzz of Ed Fest, in the wonderful chaos that produces more than 3000 new shows every day, there will still be an empty stage that somehow will always belong to Richard Herring.

And there will remain the hope that maybe next year… if we cross our fingers and wish as hard as we can… he’ll return. We’ll catch up with him next at Manchester’s Lowry Theatre in February 2016. Can’t wait.

Philip Caveney

I Killed Rasputin



Assembly, George Square Theatre, Edinburgh

As both a theatre-lover and a Richard Herring fan, it was obvious that I would attend this show. Less obvious was what I should expect. I know that Herring has written plays before, but I haven’t seen them. The poster looks rather solemn and serious; would the performance eschew all humour to focus on the history?

Of course not. While this piece is certainly informative, it’s entertaining too (“laughing and learning, folks”), and the ridiculousness of the story the world was supposed to swallow is cleverly exposed.

The casting is audacious, with Nichola McAuliffe in the lead role of Prince Felix Yusupov, playing up his notorious gender-bending reputation. McAuliffe is magnificent and Eileen Nicholas, as his arch wife, Irina, is the perfect foil, these two ‘older’ women easily commanding the stage. (Pay attention, Hollywood! Pay attention, BBC! Pay attention, everyone! Women who are over fifty can be wonderful. Write more parts for them!) In fact, the sheer brilliance of these two actors creates what, for me, is the only problem with the play: their combined charisma and charm means that they steal the show, and so the enigmatic Rasputin (Justin Edwards), appearing as a ghost to torment Yusupov, perhaps fails to make as much impact as he needs to, and it is, at times, hard to see how the Russian aristocracy could have been so beguiled by this relatively ordinary man. However, this is a minor quibble – and there’s plenty to relish in the performance, not least the multi-role playing and clever direction.

Overall, the play works very well, combining artful exposition with delightfully silly humour, and really helps to illuminate this fascinating moment in history. 

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield