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Faithful Ruslan: The Story of A Guard Dog

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The sound of prison doors clanging shut permeates throughout the auditorium from the start of Helena Kaut-Howson's epic stage version of Russian dissident writer Georgi Vladimov's allegorical novel, first translated into English by Michael Glenny. A caption projected high at the back of Pawel Dobrzycki's stark, steel-grey stage sets out the show's store. A thirteen-strong troupe line up in military formation to be put through their well-drilled paces as a fictitious set of modern day prisoners in Siberia who frame the action. This is in preparation to play-act inmates, guards and above all the dogs who roar through Vladimov's story of what happens to the most devoted servants to the cause once the prison camps are liberated following Stalin's death.

Kaut-Howson charts Ruslan's story, from being unleashed into the world by his master, to ending up on the scrap-heap. Even when he's taken in by an equally displaced former prisoner known only as the Shabby Man, Ruslan believes he's still on guard. Max Keeble's Ruslan growls,snarls and snaps his way through Kaut-Howson's breathless and expansive co-production between the Citz, the Belgrade Theatre Coventry and KP Productions.

With movement overseen by the great co-founder of the Complicitie company, Marcello Magni, Keeble leads a pack of ferocious performances en route to Ruslan finding liberation. The fact that it comes without him realising it is a damning indictment of the collateral damage of the Stalinist regime and others like it. Kaut-Howson's critique of blind faith in charismatic dogmatists applies just as much to today as the era it evokes. It is also a thrilling piece of theatre.

The Herald, September 25th 2017

ends

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