Faithful Ruslan: The Story Of A Guard Dog explores themes of freedom, dominance and obedience (3 stars)

Faithful Ruslan: The Story Of A Guard Dog explores themes of freedom, dominance and obedience

credit: Robert Day

Cult Russian story gets fine but inconsistent stage treatment

Handsomely staged by Pawel Dobrzycki, with angular design evocative of propaganda posters, writer and director Helena Kaut-Howson's stage adaptation of Georgi Vladimov's stoic guard dog story in post-Stalinist Russia teeters on a perilous line between political satire and physical theatre. Max Keeble as the titular canine is fine, increasingly becoming conscious of his master's shortcomings, and ably supported by Martin Donaghy's imperious sadistic master. Isabelle Joss as long-suffering sex worker Stiura and Hunter Bishop's training instructor, sent mad with grief for the dogs he has seen killed off, are also superb.

As dual parallels for the tricks deployed by dog trainers and despotic leaders alike to lord it over lowly citizens, it is hugely effective, a fitting analogy for power tripping and the hierarchies within the system designed to keep some people at the bottom rung. Freedom, dominance and obedience are also well explored: the scenes of political prisoners marching to certain doom are touching and still feel relevant.

But the constant rolling action at times feels relentless, there is little room for reflection and with a somewhat jarring soundscape from composer Boleslaw Rawski, as well as an ill-advised rap, it's a bit headache-inducing. Still, Camrie Palmer's gorgeous live vocals are soaring, the big ensemble give their all, and the humour and visual invention make up for some inconsistencies.

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of A Guard Dog, Citizens Theatre, Wed 20 Sep–Sat 7 Oct.

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog

An extraordinary satire on the Stalinist regime in Russia seen through the eyes of a guard dog, this is a modern ‘Animal Farm’ for the world of Trump, May and Putin.

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