There are few words that can truly describe the experience of watching Rasputin: The Balliol Charity Musical. Perhaps the best description would be that I felt as if I was descending further into insanity with every second. The play recounted the story of Rasputin, the Russian monk who cosied up to the royal family, and it was told through many, many, many, many jokes, some of which landed. As the title suggests, this was also a musical, and it is safe to say that the music was by far the most successful aspect of the show. It was certainly a night to remember.
There were many students taking roles in the cast, crew and band. In the lead role of Rasputin, Millie McMillan was the star of the show. Her comedic timing was strong and her commitment to the role unrivalled, as was her musical performance. Prince Felix (Kate O’Sullivan) was also a standout role, and one of her jokes definitely got the biggest laugh, from me, of the night. Some other character choices, unfortunately, were questionable; is it still funny, in 2020, to laugh purely at a man in a dress screaming unintelligibly? The sex monks were also perhaps funny at first, but the joke got old fast. Many of the jokes, in fact, became worn out, and this was a show characterised by “edgy” humour that ultimately fell flat for me as it felt like it was offensive purely for the sake of offence. The jokes were also often Balliol-centric, which is acceptable considering most of the audience appeared to be made up of the cast and crew’s friends, but it made me question how accessible the play was for someone like me, an outsider to the college. I had a few genuine laughs, and everyone in the audience was clearly enjoying themselves (including the actors in the wings), but it often felt as if I was laughing more at the shambolic nature of the show than at the actual jokes presented on stage.
The music, however, was of a high standard, despite some issues with sound operation. A special commendation must be given to the live band, which is always a joy to see on stage, and they did a great job conveying the raucous energy that the play required. The musical performances, whilst not always technically polished, were fun and you could tell the actors were all having the times of their lives. A particular highlight was the excellent parody of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’. The lighting was very rough and ready, and the whole play did have a sense that no-one was quite sure what was going on, which became more and more evident as the night continued, but they played this up and made fun of themselves, which made up for the slightly messy nature of the show.
It was a shame that the space was not utilised to its full potential, and this did affect my enjoyment of the show. A lot of the room was taken up by the audience leaving very little space for the actors to work with, and despite only being three rows back I consistently struggled to see the action on stage. I would perhaps have thought more about how to stage the show in an inventive manner to maximise both audience and acting space without forfeiting people’s view.
This was an incredibly ambitious show and it was obvious that a lot of work had gone into presenting it on stage. Furthermore, the work for charity should always be applauded, and it was genuinely enjoyable to see a community coming together for the greater good. Whilst it was definitely not executed with the finesse of some other Oxford dramatics, this was clearly not what the aim of the show was, and it should be enjoyed on its own terms. At the very least, your money will be going to a good cause.