A basement room of the Moika Palace, St Petersburg, December 29-30 1916.
The room features, just above head height, numerous portraits in oil of notable Russian figures, including Tsar Nicholas II, all in full military attire or splendid evening wear. Primitive electric lights enhance the display.
There is a large old wardrobe (with keyholes), back stage, just large enough to conceal two men uncomfortably. It should have a false back, allowing exit to the rear. A guitar is propped up next to it.
As well as the regal furniture, we see a samovar and an aga-like oven. There is also a drinks cabinet with delicate crystal decanters and numerous musty Madeira bottles on top, together with a copy of the Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff. There is a plush divan or ottoman (amongst other chairs), with a bell-pull close by, a small table with a chess set on it, pot plants in a corner, and a tiny circular drinks table with a revolving top.
One “outside” door (preferably up some stairs) is clearly visible stage right. It has a large key protruding.
It must be possible to run a circuit via this door and an exit on the other side, travelling via the front-of-stage area.
|Felix Yusupov||A wealthy Russian prince, aged 29 – perfectly groomed, effete and well-educated|
|Grigori Rasputin||Siberian starets (mystic) and adviser to Empress Alexandra, aged 47 – dark, unkempt and mysterious|
|Dmitri Pavlovich||Grand duke and cavalry officer, aged 25 – dashing, handsome, rash but ineffectual|
|Oswald Rayner||An Oxford-educated English spy, aged 27, posted to St Petersburg – meticulous and efficient|
|Stephen Alley||A second upper-class English spy, recently posted to St Petersburg|
|Alexandra||Empress and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, aged 44, mother of Alexy – imperious, with a strong Germanic accent|
|Anna Vyrubova||Best friend and confidante of Alexandra (and Rasputin), aged 32 – silly and manipulative|
|Prince Alexy||Haemophiliac heir to the Romanov throne, aged 12 – drowning in mother love|
|Dr Stanislaus Lazovert||GP and conspirator – bumbling, out of his depth|
|Vladimir Purishkevich||Monarchist member of the Duma and conspirator, aged 46 – crotchety and frightened|
|Sergei Sukhotin||Injured war-veteran and conspirator, with both arms swathed in bandages – incapacitated but decent man|
|Policeman||Beat officer – assiduous, dimly aware of the awkwardness of his position|
|Servant (Ivan)||At the Moika Palace, general dogsbody|
Scene 1 (Moika Palace, early evening, 29 December 1916)
As the curtain goes up, we find Felix, casually attired in a dressing gown, installed on an ottoman. He is smoking a long, slim cigarette in a cigarette holder and reading a military manual. He reaches for the bell-pull and we hear the bell sound in a neighbouring room. Enter Ivan, a Servant. Felix puts his book aside.
FELIX: Ah, Ivan, good man, I have a little job for you this evening.
SERVANT: Yes, sir?
FELIX: I need you to bake me some cakes.
SERVANT: Some cakes, sir?
FELIX: Yes, twenty small cakes, half-baked.
FELIX: I do worry about your hearing sometimes, Ivan. Yes, half-baked. I will finish baking them myself here.
SERVANT: I will ask Natasha, the cook …
FELIX: If I wanted Natasha to cook them, I would have asked her myself. I am giving Natasha and the rest of the staff the evening off. They are not to know about the cakes, or anything else.
SERVANT: I see, sir. But I have never baked anything in my life! (FELIX GLARES AT HIM.) What sort of cakes?
FELIX: Oh, I don’t know. Use your imagination. Rock cakes? Cherry buns? I am expecting a few people over this evening – Dmitri and some of his friends.
SERVANT: Very well, sir, I will do my best. (A DOORBELL RINGS) I imagine that will be them now.
FELIX: Yes, let them in, would you, and then get baking. I am relying on you, Ivan!
Exit Servant, back left. Felix jumps to his feet and fidgets with the empty decanters and glasses on the drinks table. He is looking the other way as the Servant returns, somewhat agitated. Close behind are the Empress Alexandra, Anna Vyrubova and Prince Alexy, all wearing thick winter overcoats flecked with snow.
SERVANT: Prince Felix, it is her Imperial Highness, Tsaritsa Alexandra and Prince Alexy, and …
ANNA: Anna Vyrubova.
SERVANT: Anna Verybova.
Felix drops a glass on the tray – it may or may not smash. He turns round to greet them.
FELIX: Good heavens! Your majesty! How nice to see you!
ALEXANDRA: (ALLOWING HER CHEEK TO BE KISSED, AS HER COAT IS TAKEN BY THE SERVANT) Good evening, Felix. I hope you are not too busy?
FELIX: No-oo. (TRYING TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF HIS WATCH) I’m afraid that Irina is not here this evening, your majesty.
ALEXANDRA: Call me Alex, please.
FELIX: She has gone to one of our country estates for the New Year celebrations.
ALEXANDRA: Oh, really? Where is that?
FELIX: It is called the Crimea. It is one of our larger estates.
ALEXANDRA: (SITTING) It is you I want to see, Felix.
FELIX: Ah. A glass of, um, Madeira?
ALEXANDRA: No, thank you. I just want a few words. In private. (SHE LOOKS POINTEDLY AT THE SERVANT WHO IS STRUGGLING UNDER THE WEIGHT OF ALL THE COATS)
FELIX: Ivan, will you leave us for a few moments. We are not to be disturbed. Do you understand?
SERVANT: Yes, sir. (EXIT)
ANNA: Her majesty has come on a matter of considerable delicacy, Felix.
ALEXANDRA: Yes, thank you, Anna, I can handle this. Perhaps you would like to play a game of chess with darling Alexy?
ALEXY: Mother! Auntie Anna is barely club standard!
ALEXANDRA: Then let her play white! (ANNA AND ALEXY GO RELUCTANTLY TO THE CHESSBOARD AND START TO PLAY) These are difficult times, Felix …
FELIX: I am well aware of that, your ma … er, Alex.
ALEXANDRA: The war is not going well. I wish it had never been started. Poor Nicky hasn’t been home from the Front for months.
FELIX: I hope that he is not hurt?
ALEXANDRA: Oh, he is not that close to the Front. That would be too awful. His ears would not stand it. But he must be seen to be close by, advising his generals, that sort of thing.
FELIX: I hope to be there soon myself. I have an Officers’ Entrance Exam tomorrow and I have been swotting for it all day. (HE WAVES THE BOOK IN THE AIR.)
ALEXANDRA: We appreciate your dedication and loyalty, Felix, really we do. But I am not sure that you are really equipped for … for the hardships of battle.
FELIX: It will be an honour to fight for Mother Russia.
ALEXANDRA: Yes, yes, I suppose so. Meanwhile, I must do what I can to keep the Duma in order.
FELIX: The tsar could have wished for no more able deputy!
ALEXANDRA: I have no interest in politics. All my time is taken up with looking after poor, poor Alexy.
ALEXY: I’m quite all right, mother! (TO ANNA) That’s check, by the way.
ALEXANDRA: So I must rely on my most trusted adviser.
FELIX: Of course you must.
ALEXANDRA: Look Felix, I know you don’t like Mr Rasputin very much.
FELIX: Rasputin? I … I …
ALEXANDRA: There is no need to pretend, Felix. But he is a holy man, a good man. Poor Alexy would be dead by now …
ALEXY: (LOUDLY) Checkmate! Finished …
ALEXANDRA: Well, start again!
ALEXY: I’ll give her a knight start this time.
ANNA: I don’t need a knight start!
ALEXANDRA: Yes, poor Alexy would have bled to death by now if it wasn’t for the extraordinary healing powers of the starets. That idiot Lazovert was trying to give him aspirin! We owe Rasputin everything. And he tells me that we can make peace and a favourable settlement.
FELIX: What, with the Huns! Never! I’d rather die, or at least be seriously injured, than give up an inch of our rightful territory.
ALEXANDRA: We have given up quite a few inches already. You forget I am German, Felix! These are my cousins we are fighting. And Rasputin says …
FELIX: Rasputin! Rasputin! My dear Alex…
ALEXANDRA: Don’t say another word, Felix. In fact it is about Rasputin that I have come tonight.
FELIX: (GLANCING ROUND UNEASILY) Yes, your ma …?
ALEXANDRA: You must have heard what they are saying, Felix.
FELIX: I don’t think so, no.
ALEXANDRA: … that there is a plot to kill Rasputin …
FELIX: Surely not?
ALEXANDRA: … here in St Petersburg. I have come here to warn you that there are some who are saying … no doubt wrongly and without any foundation at all … (THE DOORBELL RINGS. FELIX LOOKS ROUND ANXIOUSLY.)
FELIX: What are they saying?
ALEXANDRA: They are saying, Felix, that you … that you …
FELIX: That I am involved in some sort of plot?
ALEXANDRA: It is ridiculous, of course. I just thought I should warn you, about what some silly people are saying, that is all.
SERVANT: Prince Felix …
FELIX: Not now, Ivan! Whoever it is, put them in the kitchen and offer them a drink.
SERVANT: But … (FELIX GLARES POINTEDLY.) Very well, sir. (EXIT)
FELIX: I am most grateful to you, of course, Alex, but …
ALEXANDRA: I know I can rely on you, Felix. Find these people and tell them that Rasputin is a good man, maybe even a saint. If anything were to happen, I’m sure that Nicky … I’m sure that Nicky and I would … well, let’s just say, it would be very bad for whoever …
ALEXY: Checkmate! Again!
ANNA: Why, you little … I have played two games. That is enough.
ALEXANDRA: We are going now, Anna. (SHE GATHERS UP HER THINGS. FELIX REACHES FOR THE BELL-PULL.) Don’t worry, Felix, we can see ourselves out. Remember what I have said. Oh and please give my love to my favourite niece, Irina, when she returns from – what did you call your estate? Ah, yes, the Crimea.
FELIX: If I might say a few words …
ALEXANDRA: There is no more to be said, Felix. I am sure my meaning is absolutely clear. Good evening!
Alexandra sweeps past Felix, offering her hand for the briefest of kisses. Anna and Alexy follow her hurriedly out, back left. Felix bangs his head against the wall in frustration a couple of times and follows them out.
There is a loud knock on the outside door. Silence. Another louder knock, a pause, then the handle is tried and the door opens. Enter Stephen Alley, in British army uniform, shivering and snow-covered. Oswald Rayner, dressed as an English country gentleman in plus-fours and great-coat, follows him in. Both men are not so discreetly armed with British army service revolvers.
OSWALD: Anyone home? Felix?
STEPHEN: Are you sure this is the right way in, Oswald old bean?
OSWALD: Felix Yusupov told me that if I needed to see him, this was the door to knock at. You’re shivering, Stephen.
STEPHEN: (SHAKING SNOW OFF HIS COAT) Don’t you just love the Russian winter? It’s like being back at Charterhouse. Are you sure tonight’s the night for Operation Mad Monk?
OSWALD: Late tonight, yes. That’s what Felix told me. He’s a dear friend of mine, but…
STEPHEN: A bit of a …. (RAISES HIS EYEBROWS)
OSWALD: Of course he is. Wanted me to pose as a dead Shelley once for one of his “drawings”. Had to fight him off with a coal scuttle. But there does seem to be some sort of plan.
STEPHEN: What sort of plan?
OSWALD: He and a few pals of his have persuaded Rasputin to come round to the Moika Palace tonight and they’re going to ply him with Madeira laced with cyanide. If he won’t drink it, they’ll shoot him.
STEPHEN: What could possibly go wrong?
OSWALD: Best of all, they really do think it was their idea!
STEPHEN: How splendid! (THEY BOTH LAUGH) But surely the Mad Monk smells a rat, Ozzie? Well, you never know, it might work. It’d save us a messy job. But your Prince Felix sounds like a very odd bod.
OSWALD: Do you really think this could win us the war?
STEPHEN: With Rasputin out of the way, there’s no danger of Russia pulling out of the shooting match, at least for the time being. Germany carries on fighting on two fronts without the manpower to do either job properly. If they could redeploy all the men on the Eastern front to the battlefields of France and Belgium, our brave boys might well be overrun.
OSWALD: Trouble is, Felix and his pals couldn’t shoot a fish in a barrel.
STEPHEN: That’s why we need to be here too. Just to make sure. But we have to do it as discreetly as possible. The last thing we want is a headline round Europe that reads “Rasputin murdered by British spies”.
OSWALD: I hate this spying business, Stephen. Is this what an Oxford education is for?
STEPHEN: It’s your patriotic duty, old sausage. Look, here’s the Madeira! (THEY PICK UP AND SNIFF AT THE OPEN BOTTLES.) Smells normal. What we need is a vantage point from which we can survey the action, make sure they pull it off all right.
They survey the rest of the room. Eventually their eyes alight on the wardrobe.
OSWALD: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
They look through the keyhole and then open the wardrobe. Inside are a number of ball-gowns. Oswald takes one out and holds it up for inspection. The outside doorbell rings and there are noises off.
STEPHEN: Come on, old boy, it’s the perfect spot!
They panic and clamber in, pulling the doors to behind them. But some of the ball-gown is showing through the bottom. They attempt to pull it in after them.
While the dress is still possibly visible, Felix comes in with Dmitri (in military regalia).
FELIX: The others are just arriving, you think?
DMITRI: No sign of Vladimir. The other two are out in the drive. Sukhotin is not moving very fast these days.
FELIX: (PUTTING HIS HAND ON DMITRI’S ARM) Do you really think it will be all right, Dmitri?
DMITRI: Our destiny calls.
FELIX: And perhaps, for us, it will be a … a new start?
DMITRI: (PULLING HIS ARM AWAY) No, Felix. Not in that way. That was all a very long time ago. I am a soldier now. And you are married.
FELIX: You will always be my boy, my sweet, sweet boy. You know that.
Enter Sukhotin, an injured officer back from the front, and Dr Lazovert who is carrying a large medicine bag. Sukhotin has both arms in slings and a large bandage on his head. The Servant follows them, carrying a tray of whiteish cakes. He deposits the tray on the table and exits again.
FELIX: So you made it after all, Sukhotin?
DMITRI: (PRETENDING TO KNOCK ON SUKHOTIN’S HEAD) Is there anybody in there?
SUKHOTIN: (WEAKLY) Very funny.
DMITRI: The lengths people will go to to get invalided away from the front. And Lazovert, welcome, you old fool! (SHAKES HIS HAND VIGOROUSLY)
SUKHOTIN: I’m one of only three survivors in our regiment. And I’m half dead. Meanwhile, you two have still been living it up here in St Petersburg.
FELIX: (INDIGNANTLY) I’m doing my Officer Training.
SUKHOTIN: I see. And what about you, Dmitri?
DMITRI: (MAKING HIMSELF VERY MUCH AT HOME ON THE OTTOMAN) My horse is lame. I must look after her.
SUKHOTIN: Oh, bad luck! No Olympics for you this year then?
DMITRI: I can’t believe they cancelled it.
SUKHOTIN: Yes, this war is so darned inconvenient, isn’t it?
FELIX: What’s it been like since the Tsar went down to run the show?
SUKHOTIN: (SPLUTTERING) The tsar? Worse than useless. Hiding under his bed, no doubt. He’d be much safer here.
FELIX: He’ll need his armed guard if he comes back now. Rasputin has taken over. If anyone steps out of line, Rasputin has a word with the tsaritsa and she banishes them to Siberia. Everyone in court and the Duma has to lick his ratskin boots. The country is ruined.
DMITRI: Worse than ruined. Until now, that is …
FELIX: Rasputin would have us surrender tomorrow, Dmitri. He’d give the Germans everything they want.
DMITRI: It’s hardly surprising, Alex is one of the Huns herself. She never wanted to go to war in the first place.
Enter Vladimir Purishkevitch, in a sober suit and tie, looking very nervous.
FELIX: Well, if it isn’t Vladimir Purishkevitch, no doubt fresh from a debate in the Duma! We have a quorum!
VLADIMIR: (SHAKING HANDS WITH EVERYONE EXCEPT SUKHOTIN) How are you, Sukhotin, old friend?
SUKHOTIN: A few scratches, that’s all.
DMITRI: Ready to do the deed, Vladimir? (LAUGHS) Night night, Rasputin?
FELIX: I have persuaded him to come to the Moika at midnight.
VLADIMIR: You’re serious?
FELIX: It is our duty to the tsar, surely? Nicky will be so grateful, when it all settles down and there is no more talk of revolution. (GESTURING TO DR LAZOVERT) Between the four of us we can hardly fail, can we?
SUKHOTIN: Four? What about me?
DMITRI: (MANHANDLING SUKHOTIN’S INJURED ARM) Yes, if it all goes belly up, Sukhotin can engage him in unarmed combat. Unarmed combat! (HE LAUGHS LONG AND HARD)
FELIX: It’s a serious matter, Dmitri. I do have an English friend who might help …
DMITRI: Not that Oswald chap you know from Oxford? He’s not been sniffing round here again, has he? Can’t stand the English. Why should we need their “help”?
FELIX: Oswald seems to be doing some work for the British Embassy, not quite sure what it is. Funny chap, named after a character in King Lear, he says. Dr Lazovert, have you brought the poison?
LAZOVERT: I have. You’ve half-baked those cakes?
FELIX: Yes, they are completely half-baked. So, we are all clear on the plans?
DMITRI: Run them past us again, Felix.
FELIX: Rasputin is expecting me to drive up to the back door of his house and bring him back here, no doubt because I’ve promised he will get to meet my lovely wife, Irina.
DMITRI: Your very lovely wife, Irina.
VLADIMIR: Except, of course, he won’t because she is still holidaying with your family on the Black Sea.
FELIX: Correct. I will tell Rasputin that Irina is still busy upstairs where a few rowdy friends have outstayed their welcome.
SUKHOTIN: So you need us to have a bit of a party upstairs. Meanwhile you will ply him with cakes and Madeira. How are the cakes coming along, Lazovert?
LAZOVERT: (WHO IS PUTTING SOME WHITE CRYSTALS UNDER THE TOPS OF EACH MINIATURE CAKE) Not too bad. I am putting enough cyanide in each cake to kill a horse.
DMITRI: Make sure you eat a couple yourself, eh? Lazovert, save some for the Madeira, old chap. He might not fancy a cake.
LAZOVERT: (TIPPING SOME MORE CRYSTALS INTO A HALF-FULL WINE BOTTLE) There, one glass of that should do for Rasputin. Felix, you’ll need to remember which bottle has the poison in it and which one does not, in case you need to drink something yourself.
FELIX: Of course. So which one is which?
LAZOVERT: This one is the poisoned bottle. (SNIFFING EACH) No, sorry, it’s this one. I think. No, actually, it’s this one.
DMITRI: Don’t worry, Felix. If you’re feeling a bit peaky, you can just send for a doctor. There’ll be one upstairs. (LAUGHS) And if you bungle it, don’t worry, all the exit doors will be locked. (HE GOES TO THE OUTSIDE DOOR AND TURNS THE LARGE KEY TWICE, THEN CHECKS IT; IT SEEMS TO BE LOCKED.) The four of us can sort him out. We’ve all got weapons. He won’t get out of here alive. Come on, let’s get those cakes into the oven – they should be just right by the time you get back. (THEY PUT THE CAKES IN AN OVEN)
VLADIMIR: What happens once we’ve killed him? We can’t leave a body here.
FELIX: First Dmitri and Sukhotin will drive the Silver Shadow round to Rasputin’s house and pretend to deliver him back. Then they’ll come back here and, in the middle of the night, we’ll take him to the Petrovski Bridge and throw him into the River Neva. With any luck, he’ll float out to sea.
DMITRI: What could possibly go wrong?
FELIX: Indeed, what could possibly go wrong? Right, time for me to get changed, then go and pick him up. The rest of you, upstairs, and make it sound as though you are having a bit of a party.
Felix exits back left, the rest back right. After a short pause, Stephen and Oswald emerge from the wardrobe.
OSWALD: Tonight is indeed the night then, Stephen.
STEPHEN: (SMELLING THE MADEIRA AND WINCING) One can but hope, Oswald old son. Fancy a quick snifter, old chap? No, thought not. With any luck, we won’t be needed. It’s five onto one, after all.
OSWALD: Do you think any one of them has fired a gun in his life?
STEPHEN: The Mad Monk is a big target. (NOISES OFF) Best get back in our box …
They go back into the wardrobe. Blackout.
The lights come back on as Felix and Rasputin enter back left. Felix, turning on the lights, is now dressed colourfully and exotically while Rasputin is roughly attired in peasant’s smock and breeches. Felix takes Rasputin’s greatcoat, etc, and ushers him to the ottoman.
RASPUTIN: I do like your English car – a Silver Shadow, you call it?
FELIX: That’s right. Now what can I get you to drink, Rasputin?
RASPUTIN: The samovar seems to be cold. Where is your wife, Felix? You promised that I would meet Irina.
FELIX: So I did, and you will. But there is a slight problem.
RASPUTIN: A problem?
FELIX: Yes, we had some friends to dinner and they have outstayed their welcome. They are still drinking and dancing upstairs.
RASPUTIN: I can’t hear anything.
FELIX: Yes, if you listen carefully … (THEY DO, BUT THERE IS NO SOUND). Perhaps they have gone – I will go and check …
Felix exits back right. Rasputin gets up, picks up a Madeira bottle and sniffs it suspiciously, smells the oven more appreciatively and returns hurriedly to his chair as Felix reappears. From this point on, we hear tinkling glasses, drinking songs and other comic effects at inappropriate intervals from backstage – Felix reacts accordingly.
FELIX: No, they are still here. Irina says she will be down in a minute. Now, what about that drink? Madeira?
RASPUTIN: No. I never drink.
FELIX: I see. But perhaps we can tempt you with one of the delicious home-made cakes that Irina has made in your honour.
RASPUTIN: I am not hungry. Felix, I sense that your spirit is not at peace this evening. What is wrong?
FELIX: Oh, nothing. (TAKING THE CAKES, NOW BROWN, OUT OF THE OVEN) I’m just a little concerned that you will accept none of our hospitality.
RASPUTIN: Would you like me to cast your demons out?
FELIX: Erm, how would you do that exactly, Mr Rasputin?
RASPUTIN: (TAKING OUT A LARGE CRUCIFIX) You will need to lie down and look closely into my eyes.
FELIX: (JUMPING BACK) I don’t think that will be absolutely necessary. Where is Irina? I will shout to her again.
He goes to the door and shouts upstairs.
DMITRI: (HIGH-PITCHED, OFFSTAGE) Yes, my love.
FELIX: We’re waiting for you, dear.
Rasputin picks up The Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff and examines it.
RASPUTIN: The Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff? Don’t think I know him.
FELIX: Oh, it is a kind of prophecy, I think. It is by a man called Hogg who was at my college. University College, in Oxford. A friend of Shelley’s. The poet? (RASPUTIN LOOKS BLANK.) Blithe spirit, Ozymandias …
RASPUTIN: Ozzie who? Oxfoot? Shell-ey?
FELIX: Not to be confused with Mary Shelley, his wife. They got married one hundred years ago this morning. But then he drowned …
RASPUTIN: And you fear drowning, Felix? I know everything about you.
Felix shrugs, picks up the guitar, carries it back to his chair and starts playing it inexpertly.
FELIX: You do? Did you know I play the guitar? Would you like me to play for you?
RASPUTIN: (SHAKING HIS HEAD AT THE AWFULNESS OF IT) Perhaps I will have some refreshment after all. A cake, perhaps?
FELIX: A cake – excellent. We will both have a cake.
Felix gives Rasputin a cake on a plate and takes one for himself. There is an uneasy pause as they consider their cakes. Felix raises his cake to his lips and then puts it back down on his plate as Rasputin watches suspiciously.
RASPUTIN: Do you not want to eat your cake, Felix?
FELIX: Um, all that Christmas turkey has left me feeling a little … (RUBS HIS TUMMY) … you know …
Slowly and deliberately, Rasputin begins to eat his cake. Felix watches incredulously as he finishes it.
RASPUTIN: It tastes a little strange. Rather bitter. (ANOTHER MOUTHFUL) Almondy. But oddly moreish. (AND ANOTHER)
Felix raises his cake to his lips once more but still cannot bring himself to take a bite.
FELIX: I think I would rather have a drink. Another cake, Rasputin?
RASPUTIN: (SITTING) I don’t mind if I do. (FELIX SERVES HIM ANOTHER ONE. RASPUTIN EATS WITH INCREASING SPEED.) Irina is quite a chef, isn’t she? What a lot of noise they are making up there!
FELIX: Are they? How are you feeling now? I mean, in general?
RASPUTIN: (BETWEEN MOUTHFULS) Never felt better. But the cakes are a little dry. Perhaps I will have a drink, after all.
RASPUTIN: Is that intoxicating?
FELIX: Hardly at all.
RASPUTIN: Very well, I will try a glass of Madeira.
FELIX: (AS HE WORRIEDLY POURS TWO LARGE GLASSES, ONE FROM EACH BOTTLE) Madeira is from, er, Madeira. It is a fortified wine.
RASPUTIN: What is “fortified”?
FELIX: (PLACING THE TWO GLASSES AND A BOTTLE ON THE SMALL REVOLVING TABLE BETWEEN THEIR TWO CHAIRS. FELIX SITS.) It means no alcohol, I think. Although you may find it tastes a little … sharp.
RASPUTIN: Is that Irina I hear coming down the stairs?
As Felix turns to look, there is just time for Rasputin to spin the table 180 degrees so that the glasses are switched.
FELIX: Not unless she is coming from the servants’ quarters over there.
Felix points past Rasputin who turns to look, giving Felix enough time to spin the table again.
FELIX: No, perhaps not. Anyway, bottoms up, as they say in Oxford.
RASPUTIN: Yes, bottoms up!
They clink glasses and raise them to their lips. Felix pretends to sip and Rasputin takes a hearty glug, then another, draining the whole glass quickly. Felix looks on in amazement.
RASPUTIN: Mmm, delicious. I think I could manage another cake now. (FELIX FETCHES HIM ONE) And possibly another tiny glass of your Madeira.
Felix pours him a huge one; he continues to eat and drink. Felix strums nervously on his guitar.
FELIX: How do you feel now?
RASPUTIN: Why do you ask, Felix? Is it because you love me?
FELIX: (SHOCKED) No!
RASPUTIN: Don’t worry, I am used to it. You loved Grand Duke Dmitri, but he is not nice to you any more, is he? And now you want to sleep with me. But I think you have brought me here on false pretences. Your wife is not here, is she?
FELIX: Of course she is. Why, I will go and fetch her immediately.
Felix exits back right. While he is away, Rasputin winces and rubs his tummy, as if suffering from indigestion. He pours himself some more Madeira and forces it down, clearly now in some pain. He examines the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. He does not like what he sees. Felix re-enters back right. We can see that he now has an antique musket behind his back. Rasputin rises menacingly and starts to come towards him, but he is clearly in pain now.
RASPUTIN: What have you done to me, Felix?
FELIX: Don’t come any closer, Rasputin.
RASPUTIN: Why, are you going to shoot me? Is that a gun behind your back, Felix?
FELIX: I … I ….
RASPUTIN: Don’t you know that I am immortal? (HE GRASPS AND RAISES THE CRUCIFIX ROUND HIS NECK) Look deep into my eyes, Felix!
FELIX: (POINTING THE GUN AT HIM, BUT SHAKING WITH FEAR) I’m not going to fall for any more of your tricks.
RASPUTIN: My tricks? I tell you, you can never kill me, Fe …
At this point, there is a loud bang and Rasputin clutches his chest. The two men stare uncertainly at each other.
RASPUTIN: (GASPING AND TOTTERING TOWARDS FELIX) I can’t believe you just did that.
FELIX: No, nor can I. Sorry! But I’m afraid I’m going to have to do it again.
Another bang. Rasputin staggers desperately towards Felix. The other four conspirators come rushing in, all with antique weaponry except Sukhotin. Lazovert goes for a light switch and manages to plunge the room into darkness.
DMITRI: Who’s turned the lights out? Turn them back on!
VLADIMIR: Is he dead, Felix?
FELIX: How should I know? I hope so! (THERE IS A ROAR OF DYING PAIN FROM RASPUTIN, THEN A THUD AS HE HITS THE FLOOR)
SUKHOTIN: Is that the light switch?
LAZOVERT: No, here it is. (THE LIGHTS GO BACK ON JUST AS DMITRI IS TRIPPING OVER RASPUTIN’S BODY)
DMITRI: Ow! That hurt!
VLADIMIR: He is actually dead, isn’t he? Gosh.
They each move tentatively towards him, prod him, shake him. He seems to be thoroughly dead. Eventually, Lazovert gets out a stethoscope and places it next to the gunshot wound in his chest.
LAZOVERT: Yes, I can confirm that he is definitely dead. Well done, Felix!
DMITRI: Well done all of us. Now what do we do?
VLADIMIR: You three must drive over to Rasputin’s place and pretend to drop him off. Felix and I will start to tidy up here.
DMITRI: OK, let’s get cracking. Can anyone actually drive?
Dmitri, Lazovert and Sukhotin rush off back left. Felix and Vladimir collapse in the chairs.
VLADIMIR: A drink to celebrate?
FELIX: Why not? But possibly not the Madeira. (HE FINDS TWO BOTTLES OF BEER AND PASSES ONE TO VLADIMIR; THEY DRINK) Here’s to a job well done.
VLADIMIR: A job well done! To be honest, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to pull it off.
FELIX: Never in doubt, old friend. Although …
VLADIMIR: Although what?
FELIX: You don’t think we should just check, do you? Just to be sure?
VLADIMIR: Can’t do any harm. I’ll be right behind you with my blunderbuss, Felix.
Gun still in one hand, Felix approaches the body tentatively and slaps Rasputin’s face a couple of times. There is no response. Then he tries to check for a pulse. Still nothing.
FELIX: (TURNING TO VLADIMIR) Yes, he’s defini …
At this point, Rasputin gives a huge roar and grabs Felix by the throat with one hand and by his gun-hand with the other. Felix struggles to fight back. (Vladimir waves his gun ineffectually but does not shoot.) There is a moment of stillness as the two men gaze into each other’s eyes at very close range. Then Rasputin gets the better of Felix, throws him aside, stands up and starts heading for the outside-door.
FELIX: (FROM THE FLOOR) Don’t worry, all the doors are locked.
Rasputin tries the door and it opens easily. He goes through.
FELIX: Shoot him, you fool! (VLADIMIR FIRES HIS GUN, BUT A MOMENT TOO LATE) We can’t let him get away …
They chase after him through the door. Rasputin soon reappears front right, running round the front of the stage. As he disappears again, Felix and Vladimir appear in pursuit, firing wildly. They all do a couple of circuits, tripping over things as they go. While they are all off-stage, Stephen and Oswald come calmly out of the wardrobe to centre stage, revolvers in hand.
STEPHEN: If you want a job doing …
OSWALD: You have to do it yourself.
When Rasputin next comes running round the front of the stage, Oswald takes careful aim – bang! Rasputin falls instantly dead.
STEPHEN: I say, good shot, sir!
OSWALD: Time to make a sharp exit.
They melt away through the outside-door just as Felix and Vladimir reappear. There is one further bang, then Vladimir trips over Rasputin.
VLADIMIR: I think we’ve got him this time.
Felix tries to fire another bullet, but there is just a click.
FELIX: Just as well as I seem to be out of ammunition.
Dmitri and Lazovert race towards them from back right with Sukhotin puffing in the rear. They prod the body tentatively with their feet.
DMITRI: I thought you said he was dead, Lazovert, you old fool.
LAZOVERT: He was! I mean, he is!
FELIX: Not just now he wasn’t. All this racket will have woken up the neighbourhood. Is that someone coming? Hide him behind that bank of snow.
They tug him desperately up to a spot which is hardly concealed at all, front right of stage, arranging pot plants in front. They then attempt to form a human shield as a policeman enters front left.
FELIX: Ah, what seems to be the trouble, officer?
POLICEMAN: Sorry to disturb you gentleman, but – how can I put this? I could have sworn there was the sound of gunfire.
DMITRI: Gunfire? I’m sure you are mistaken.
POLICEMAN: It was definitely gunfire.
FELIX: (AFTER A PAUSE) Ah yes, gunfire. There was a little bit of that.
POLICEMAN: Any particular reason, Mr Yusupov?
FELIX: It’s Prince Felix, please.
POLICEMAN: Not for long it won’t be. Or so I hear. Anyway ….
DMITRI: You see, the thing is, we were having a bit of a party, a bit too much to drink, you know how it is. High spirits. We were just leaving and this dog was barking. So Sukhotin here shot it.
SUKHOTIN: (WHO PLAINLY DOES NOT HAVE A USEABLE ARM TO HAVE SHOT ANYONE) I did? I mean, I did. Pesky dog. Sorry.
POLICEMAN: I see. And where is this dog now? (TRYING TO PEER BEHIND THEM)
FELIX: It must have got away. Just as well, eh, officer.
POLICEMAN: (WRITING PAINSTAKINGLY IN HIS NOTEBOOK) And the dog got away. Well, that all seems quite, er, plausible. Yes, all quite normal. I won’t take up any more of your time, gentlemen.
DMITRI: You won’t? No, I should think not. You should be off catching some real criminals, not people like us.
POLICEMAN: Indeed, I’m very sorry. I’ll say goodnight then.
THE REST: Nighty night!
The Policeman exits front left.
LAZOVERT: I think we’ve got away with it.
DMITRI: Right, come on, lads. We need to lug the body into the boot of the Rolls Royce. (THEY TRY, BUT HAVE GREAT DIFFICULTY MOVING HIM AT ALL) Alex will have to find someone else to keep her warm at night now. Come on, Sukhotin, give us a hand!
SUKHOTIN: I haven’t really got one.
Eventually they manage to tug him to and through the nearest exit.
LAZOVERT: This is killing my back. Nearly there now.
VLADIMIR: (AS THE OTHER THREE EXIT) I’ll stay here and help Felix with the clearing up.
DMITRI: (FROM OFFSTAGE) Leave us with all the dirty work, why don’t you?
Vladimir and Felix get their handkerchiefs out and wipe ineffectually at assorted bloodstains, etc.
VLADIMIR: Oh God, what have we done? The place is covered in blood! We’re going to have to get the servants to sort it out.
FELIX: I dread to think what the cleaning bills are going to be like.
VLADIMIR: Still, we’ve done our duty to the tsar and Mother Russia.
FELIX: Indeed we have. Nicky will live to a ripe old age and there will be no more talk of revolution or any of that nonsense. They will make statues of us.
There is a knock on the outside-door. They jump in alarm and freeze. There is another alarming knock on the door.
VLADIMIR: It’s Rasputin, isn’t it?
FELIX: I doubt if he’d knock. (ANOTHER KNOCK) Come in!
It is the Policeman, notebook at the ready.
POLICEMAN: Sorry to disturb you again, gentlemen. But my sergeant has asked me to come back and ask a few more questions. You see, the thing is, there are reports that Mr Rasputin is nowhere to be found.
FELIX: Mr who? I don’t know what you are implying.
POLICEMAN: Local residents confirm there were definitely a number of gunshots around 2.37 this morning.
FELIX: But this is ridiculous. You realize who I am?
POLICEMAN: I’m really sorry, it’s just that my sergeant …
VLADIMIR (IMPATIENTLY) Well, you can tell your sergeant that work of national, no, imperial importance has taken place here tonight. The traitor, Rasputin, has been eliminated. Every true Russian will drink a toast to our heroic endeavours …
POLICEMAN: (WRITING LABORIOUSLY) Every true Russian …
FELIX: (PANICKING) Don’t listen to the idiot. He’s drunk. He doesn’t know what he is saying.
POLICEMAN: Are you drunk, Mr, er, Mr … ?
VLADIMIR: I … I … (SLURRING NOW) Yes, I suppose I am.
POLICEMAN: (WRITING) But the suspect was drunk and refused to give me his name … aren’t you that chap from the Duma?
FELIX: Officer, I hope you understand the awkwardness of the situation in which you find yourself. Are you aware that the tsar himself had given orders that … if it turns out that you and your fellow police officers have … well, I think you know what I’m driving at!
POLICEMAN: I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about. The tsaritsa has given us instructions …
FELIX: Do you presume to speak for the tsaritsa? I suggest you go back to your silly little police station and think very carefully before you start making any accusations. Do I make myself clear?
POLICEMAN: (WRITING) How do you spell “tsaritsa”?
FELIX: Goodnight, officer. I don’t think we will be seeing you again. (HE SHOWS HIM THE DOOR)
POLICEMAN: Well, thank you for your help, sir.
FELIX: (AS THE POLICEMAN EXITS) No problem, officer. (PAUSE) Are you out of your tiny mind, Vladimir? We’ll never hear the end of it now.
VLADIMIR: I’m sorry. It’s been a very stressful night.
FELIX: Come on, let’s clean up this mess. Second thoughts … (SHOUTING) Ivan?
Daylight. The room has been cleared of all incriminating evidence. Felix comes in, back right, ahead of the Chief of Police.
CHIEF: Ah, Prince Felix, it’s so good of you to see me.
FELIX: Always happy to assist the forces of law and order, Inspector.
CHIEF: Just a few formalities, really. You understand that the body of that notorious criminal, Rasputin, has been found floating near Petrovski Bridge.
FELIX: He has? … Had he been for a swim?
CHIEF: (SCRUTINISING THE EMPTY DRINKS TABLE) He had been shot several times. Now, he may have been a traitor and a lunatic, in my humble opinion, but we are, regrettably, forced to investigate the circumstances of his death.
FELIX: Of course. But how can I help you?
CHIEF: Rasputin went missing on the night of December 29th or the early hours of the 30th. There are a number of unfortunate reports of shots being fired at the Moika Palace at about 2.30 a.m. this morning.
The Chief of Police strolls around as he talks. He puts his finger to a mark on the wall and then smells it suspiciously.
CHIEF: Although I am sure this was pure coincidence, I have to ask, just for the record, what happened?
FELIX: As we explained to the constable at the time, one of our guests had had a little too much to drink and tried to shoot our trusty wolfhound, Rinka.
CHIEF: Which guest was that?
FELIX: I forget.
CHIEF: (CONSULTING DOCUMENTS) It appears that it was an unknown man with both his arms in slings.
FELIX: That is, er, correct, Inspector. Luckily, he missed.
CHIEF: (EXAMINING HIS FINGER) Constable Plovski claims that he saw blood on the snow and also inside on the walls of the palace.
FELIX: (LOOKING AROUND ANXIOUSLY) Ah, I see … it wasn’t blood, of course. We had a bit of an accident with a jar of strawberry jam.
CHIEF: Strawberry jam. And then half an hour later we have witness reports of a Rolls Royce stopping on the Petrovski Bridge and three men heaving a suspiciously large object out of the boot and dropping it into the River Neva.
FELIX: I was not one of those men. I do have a Rolls Royce …
CHIEF: Awkwardly, it is known to be the only Rolls Royce in St Petersburg. And there are tyre tracks in the snow all the way from this door here to the bridge and back.
FELIX: Ah. Perhaps someone borrowed it to try to incriminate me?
CHIEF: To incriminate you? (PAUSE) Yes, I’d say it’s the obvious conclusion, isn’t it? Especially as Constable Plovski was interviewing you at about the same time. The Constable says there was a man with you, possibly a Mr Vladimir Purishkevitch, who said, and I quote: “the traitor, Rasputin, has been eliminated”.
FELIX: He was guessing. Or drunk. Or joking. If it was him at all …
CHIEF: You don’t remember who you were with?
FELIX: It had been a long night.
Alexandra (in full imperial regalia) and Anna burst onto the stage from back left. The servant is just behind, making apologetic hand gestures. Alexandra tries to grab Felix by the throat.
ALEXANDRA: You murderer! You cruel, cruel murderer!
FELIX: (CHOKING BUT WARDING HER OFF) I don’t know what you mean, your Majesty!
ALEXANDRA: You have killed my one true friend …
ANNA: You still have me, your Majesty.
ALEXANDRA: (SOBBING) My dearest, dearest friend, a holy man, a saint, the man to save Russia from her enemies within and without!
FELIX: It’s a point of view …
ALEXANDRA: You will hang for this, Felix! (SHE LETS HIM GO)
FELIX: But …
ALEXANDRA: As will Dmitri, that traitor Vladimir Purishkevitch, Lt Sukhotin and Dr Lazovert. But you were the ringleader. Hanging’s too good for you!
FELIX: Your Majesty, while I concede that my feelings towards Mr Rasputin may not have been quite as warm as your own …
ALEXANDRA: Warm? What are you insinuating?
FELIX: Nothing, nothing. But I have just explained to this gentleman why I could not possibly have been involved.
CHIEF: (FIDGETING WITH HIS PAPERS) It’s early days, your Majesty, a lot of investigative work is still to be done. But I’d have to say that my preliminary conclusion is that there is no evidence whatsoever to link Prince Felix with the, er “crime”.
CHIEF: I’m sorry.
ALEXANDRA: The tsar is on his way back from the Front. When he hears about this …
CHIEF: Yes, I am in contact with the tsar already.
ALEXANDRA: (THE PENNY IS DROPPING) You are? I see. I see! (SOBBING AGAIN) Well, I will be having a word with him too! Come on, Anna, I can see it was a mistake to come here….
She storms out, back left, with Anna in tow.
CHIEF: Prince Felix, if I may, a few words of advice.
FELIX: Yes, of course, Inspector.
CHIEF: I have heard that the weather is a little warmer down by the Black Sea – why not go down and join your family? Just until the storm blows over.
FELIX: (SHAKING HANDS) Thank you, you are doing an excellent job, Inspector. It won’t be forgotten. December 30th will be a national holiday, you mark my words. History will speak kindly of us.
As the Inspector leaves with the Servant, Felix picks up a glass of Madeira, smiles and toasts the portrait of the tsar. Curtain.
This play is based on Felix Yusupov’s autobiography, Lost Splendor, which may be read here. It has been augmented with a range of other historical evidence, notably the evidence of the English involvement in Rasputin’s murder.
A longer version of this play, written for radio, may be heard here (copyright © the author).