Metro 112

Oh, those Russians leave Richard Herring mystified about Rasputin

Friday 2 May 2014 
Last week I visited St Petersburg in Russia to research my new play.
Yes, a comedian writing a play. I am the 21st-century Ernie Wise.
It’s called I Killed Rasputin and will premiere at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and focuses on Felix Yusupov, one of the assassins of the notoriously difficult to kill and diabolic Holy Man.
You might think you know everything about Rasputin from listening to Boney M. He was, of course, the lover of the Russian queen (and remember, in 1916 it wasn’t so easy to s**g a member of the royal family), Russia’s greatest love machine and a cat that really was gone. It was a shame how he carried on, to be quite honest.
It turns out that Boney M’s historical research was not as good as one might have hoped from a 1970s silver platform-booted disco combo. His first name wasn’t even Ra-Ra – it was Grigori. But eventhe official historical account is shrouded in myth and blatant falsehood.
The story of his murder reads like something from a Hammer Horror film.
First they fed Rasputin poisoned wine and cakes but he didn’t die. Then they shot him in the heart but 30 minutes later he was up on his feet and making a run for it.
They shot him again in the back and the centre of his forehead and then beat the body, possibly chopping off his 30cm winkie, before throwing the rest of him into the icy river. And after all that, he supposedly died by drowning.
If they were writing it now they’d probably say the only way they could destroy him was to lower him into a vat of molten metal, like the Terminator.
In my play, I hope to get a bit closer to the truth of what happened that night and also to examine the fascinating life of Yusupov.
He came from a family so rich that he once discovered a palace they had forgotten they owned that had been left to rot for 80 years. They lived in sumptuous luxury, not giving a fig that the mass of the population experienced the harshest poverty. Remind you of anything?
The Russian peasants finally got so fed up with this inequality that they decided to rise up and redistribute the wealth. I’m not trying to give you any ideas. Just saying to the rich, look what happens when you start to take the p***!
I visited the remarkably well-preserved Yusupov Palace, on the banks of the Moika Canal, to see where Yusupov lived and Rasputin died.It was filled with exquisite furniture and gaudy, golden ornaments. They had a ballroom and even had their own theatre. You can understand why someone living in a place such as this would become detached from reality and feel untouchable.
Yusupov survived the Russian revolution and died in 1967, improbably living for more than half a century after Rasputin and the Russian royal family had met their fates.
But you’ll be glad to hear he didn’t ever have to live in poverty, as he managed to salvage a few jewels and a couple of Rembrandts as he fled and then, when the money was running out, he successfully sued MGM for its portrayal of his wife in Rasputin And The Empress.
That’s why all films now have the disclaimer: ‘Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’
I am glad that he’s dead so he can’t sue me too. Not sure about Rasputin, though. You all remember the bit in the story when he said: ‘I’ll be back!’?