Theatre Review: The Master and Margarita by Complicite
- Credit: Archant
Testament to Complicite’s utterly compelling production, The Master and Margarita, was the audience’s reluctance to stop clapping as the show ended and the cast came back for three encores.
It was a powerful feeling to realise everyone present at the packed out Barbican had been just as moved as I was by this thought provoking artistic work about forgiveness and the power of good over evil.
Mesmerising from the outset, the visually stunning and often uncomfortable to watch adaptation of Russian Mikhail Bulgakov’s acclaimed magical realist novel broaches the question of God’s existence, the corrupt nature of authority, and mercy.
Written over the course of 12 years Bulgakov put his life on the line writing it in Stalinist Moscow, and it was only published posthumously in 1967. The focus is on three separate stories - the Devil and his retinue visiting 1930s atheistic Moscow where the Bible was banned, Jerusalem at the time of Procurator Pontius Pilate during the last days of Jesus’ life and a love story inspired by Bulgakov’s third wife.
The genius of Simon McBurney, Complicité’s director, comes in taking theatre to a whole new level, interweaving the stories, which at times mirror each other and overlap. Es Devlin’s dark and sparse set lends itself to mind-blowing special effects using film projections which take your breath away, with brick walls appearing to tumble down to reveal the universe, and chairs from the stage floor are projected on the wall to become a galloping horse mounted by the Master and Margarita.
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Many of the lines come across with wry dark humour, although whether the audience is really meant to be laughing is questionable - particularly when a puppet cat reaches the depths of depravity, raping the showmaster to the sound track of Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter.
A brave stance is taken with regards to complete nudity, with an emaciated Jesus figure, and Susan Lynch as Margarita spending nearly the whole of the second half without clothes as she dances with the devil.
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The stage depicts the oppressive, terrifying state of Stalinist Russia, but sometimes the focus turns to the audience demonstrating the issues are just as relevant nowadays.
Incredibly thought provoking, I would welcome the chance to watch another three and a quarter hour performance to try and absorb more of the production’s complexity, and Bulgakov’s book has been placed top of my reading list.
The show has returned to the Barbican until Saturday January 19 following its sell-out run last spring - try and catch it while you can.
Tickets priced between £16 and £42 are now sold out, but returns will be released at the Barbican box office at 5.45pm daily.