RUSSIAN ROULETTE

Fri 3rd – Thu 23rd August 2018

reviews

Katherine Knight

at 11:00 on 9th Aug 2018

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Sometimes you see a show so relentlessly bizarre it defies any sense of star rating. There are some plays which are so hilarious and frankly such a state that they even-out at what appears an average number of stars. ‘Russian Roulette’ is one of them.

The premise is simple – a performance of Anton Chekov’s ‘The Seagull’ is interrupted by the spinning of a roulette wheel, with each number introducing a different element to the plot. There is no possible way this could go wrong. It’s not as if, for example, a 6 would result in a nuclear warhead being carried onto the stage, or a 28 would result in beards being banned (which includes roughly half the cast). There is absolutely no damage control in place – so if, for example, three sixes are rolled in one performance, everyone has to deal with three nuclear warheads detonating in the middle of Chekov. Which of course is exactly what happens. One is shot up a man’s arse.

Look. ‘Russian Roulette’ is a mess. A brilliant, glorious mess. And in many ways it is everything the Fringe should be. However, by the time I have sat through these three missiles, a zombie outbreak, a rather distressing man in a leotard, a rendition of Cats and a duel which takes out a main character, I can’t help thinking some damage control wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The whole thing is gloriously unprofessional, but unfortunately not always intentionally. The presenters can’t stop themselves from laughing into their mics, the actors forget their lines even before bizarre elements are introduced, and sometimes the ball is literally dropped (twice, in fact; both times off the stage). There’s an undeniable sense of them making things up as they go along; however, they’re all having such a great time you can’t really care. By the time a nuclear missile almost takes out a stage light I practically have tears in my eyes from laughter.

Most of the moments of genuine humour come from physicality on stage rather than comments – I found the zombie trope dragged on for far too long, but the sight of Tom the audience member being used as a furry hat had me cackling with laughter. The two presenters, Will Seaward and Sullivan Brown, are also consistently funny, carrying some of the laxer periods with genuine good humour. And, bizarrely, the show does attempt to educate you on Russian literature and history with surprising detail – each of the achingly punny elements are explained before they are introduced, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a synopsis of the usual plots on the back. It’s a reckless, wonderful car-crash of a show, but if you’re looking for anything remotely coherent this isn’t it. That said, I can’t wait to go again.

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Martha Crass

at 12:54 on 9th Aug 2018

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We are first greeted by a man who resembles Brian Blessed in every way - except this man makes Brian look mild-mannered, softly-spoken, and the sort of person who likes to keep himself to himself. ‘WELCOME! TAKE A THINGY!’ he bellows, and thrusts something like a flyer into our hands, which, on closer inspection, has a list of numbers printed out roulette-style. They have red and black marking them in turn and various statements written next to them.

This man turns out to be one of our hosts for the evening’s entertainment. The other is a man whose moustache could be found as an example next to the dictionary definition of: ‘eccentric’. He has a voice made specially for the national lottery announcements, or alternatively...this.

And what is 'this', exactly? Well, 'Russian Roulette's premise is fairly simple, as our hosts tell us. One piece of classic Russian literature is chosen from three (this evening it is Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’), and then the story is acted out by a cast of five until a klaxon (which sounds periodically throughout the show) dictates that a new story element, plot device, or completely random event be introduced. This is done by a member of the audience, who sits on stage next to a roulette wheel; whatever the ball lands on corresponds to something on the sheet we were handed on the way in. This show is utterly, utterly bonkers, I realise, as just minutes in two nuclear warheads have been detonated, half the cast have become zombies, and one of the remaining humans is running around in a hazmat suit, armed with a large spoon. There is also a stage-wide ban on beards; if an actor fails to conceal theirs in some way when they enter, they are subjected to a penalty of the hosts’ choice. You don’t need to know the first thing about Russian literature to enjoy this, although it certainly couldn’t hurt; everything is perfectly funny in its own right.

I’m not exaggerating - I’m perhaps making an understatement - when I say that this show is the silliest, funniest, most ridiculous thing I’ve seen. Even the corpses are cracking up, and the hosts’ giggles are plainly audible through their microphones, providing a contagious backing track which both eliminates any awkwardness and elicits a mirror response from the audience. Nothing is too far-fetched for ‘Russian Roulette’. Speaking to the mustachioed host afterwards, as I’m still reeling from the show’s giddiness, he tells us proudly that ‘the other night, two members of the cast were replaced by Fabergé eggs’.

There are moments when actors forget their lines or stumble over the plot, prompting more laughter and improvised jokes. Presumably each variation is loosely rehearsed and of course it is impossible to prepare exactly for what will take place on this stage; but this only makes the audience warm to the show more. This isn’t to say the cast are anything less than brilliant, however; they adapt to every new twist with ease and enthusiasm, and seem to find everything as ridiculous as we do. In so many ways, this production is five-star; in others it is a mess. A glorious, hilarious, hysterical mess. And honestly, this just makes it even better.

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