cast of Ruslan

Faithful Ruslan – The Story of a guard Dog

B2 Belgrade Theatre Coventry


Ruslan’s story signifies the end of one of Russia’s darkest eras. Stalin’s death in 1953 and Khrushchev’s reforms ended the brutal, arbitrarily cruel regime of detention and death that killed millions.

The lives and experience of so many innocent and loyal people underlies the play which is based on Georgi Vladimov’s The Dogs which developed into Faithful Ruslan and caused such a stir in Russia that Vladimov was forced to flee to Germany.

It is the centenary of the Russian Revolution and incidentally the ten-year anniversary of the B2, the Belgrade’s other house where the experimental, the inspiring and the amazing tends to be housed.

Ruslan (Max Keeble) is a beautiful dog, chosen from a litter of puppies for trainability, courage and strength. His master (Martin Donaghy) is cruel but not enough to shoot the dog when his ‘career’ as a guard dog finishes with the sudden end of the gulag prison camps.

Ruslan, together with his cohort of dogs wander the countryside, between the camp and the station, searching for the master and a new role in life. Ruslan’s story is told in flashbacks – gruelling and cruel training as an attack dog and imprinted on his master.

master and Ruslan

Martin Donaghy as the master and Max Keeble as Ruslan. Pictures: Robert Day

He meets Shabby Man (Paul Brendan) and partner the camp prostitute Stiura (Isabelle Joss) who takes him in – significantly Shabby Man is an ex-prisoner and Ruslan sees his job as to guard him to stop him escaping.

In one telling scene, the sensitive dog trainer (Hunter Bishop), is sent mad as he has to watch as Ingus (Pawel Zdun), his favourite dog, is shot for trying to stop the brutal killing of prisoners.

Trouble comes to Ruslan when he mistakes a group of students as a column of escaping prisoners and attacks. It ends his life – and the point, made several times, that death is an easier option than life occurs to Ruslan too.

This is an ensemble piece with much to enjoy amid the skies of grey; as the ensemble transform into packs of dogs, chickens as well and guards and prisoners. I enjoyed the use of music and sound effects though some were decidedly chilling and Camrie Palmer’s laments were a beautiful addition. Finally, hats off to Max Keeble for an incredible performance as Ruslan.

Written, adapted and directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, and produced by Citizens Theatre Glasgow and KP Productions, Ruslan runs to 16-09-17.

Jane Howard


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