During its almost 3 week run at the Citizen’s Theatre, Faithful Ruslan is described as “An extraordinary satire on the Stalinist regime in Russia seen through the eyes of a guard dog”. But this story is much more than a simple dog’s tale. Reminiscent at times of both war horse and animal farm, it is a moving and poignant story that remains relevant in this modern world of political upheaval.
The story is of Ruslan, a guard dog at a prison camp, whose master cannot quite bring himself to shoot him when the camp shuts down. Unwilling to abandon “the Service”, Ruslan’s journey takes us through late and post-soviet Russia, as seen by a creature that was created by a world slowly fading away. The most impressive part of the performance is that of the actor playing Ruslan, who never once wavers or breaks character from that of a canine. The physical (and mental) exertion showed by this individual every night makes the performance all the more impressive, especially as, unlike shows such as war horse, there are not puppets or pretensions; he is visibly a man, but there are moments when you can easily forget that and see him as a dog.
The play follows his exploits after the camp, his devotion to “the Service”, his unwillingness to break his training and is intercut with flashbacks that show how he was moulded into this picture of blind faith and obedience to the State. We are reminded of the Soviet regime’s ruthlessness, both to those it oppressed and those that served it. Even when the camp shuts down, we get a glimpse into life after, both for the prisoners and soldiers. Whilst the people, scarred as they are, may move on, for the creatures such as Ruslan, created for a state no longer in existence, the choice is this: adapt or die.
The performance was, overall, highly enjoyable, with good use of the space the Citizen offers and, though it had little in the way of sets, costumes, and props, never failed to use what it had to its full effect. A comprehensive line was followed, all bound together by the performance of the lead. The only true complaint that could be made is that the performance of some of the ensemble was, at times, somewhat lacklustre, not quite measuring up to the raw passion of their leading man. Nevertheless, this production was overall an entertaining, and somewhat moving, show.
By Michael Cartledge