by Mikhail Bulgakov adapted by Simon McBurney, Edward Kemp and the company.

Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 7 April 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Sat performance 6 April.
Runs 3hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 243 0785.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 March.

Three hours’ playing-time, every minute filled with energy and invention.
Theatre company Complicite take on ever-more impossible projects and, generally, triumph. They certainly do here.

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a novel written in secret, over years in Stalinist Russia and breaking every state-ordained rule for writing. It’s a fantasy with narratives-within-narratives, at times almost tangential story-telling, and incorporating religion (banned), variety theatre and a show-off diabolic troupe, including feline hit-man Behemoth – represented by Blind Summit Theatre as a red-eyed human-sized creature on two legs – led by Woland.

He’s carefully not credited in the cast-list, allowing a final revelation in Simon McBurney’s production. At one level, state authority is distinct, costume linking Tim McMullan’s Pilate, uncertain as soon as the rules stop clearly applying, with Stalin, whose huge photograph shows him in white-jacketed splendour.

At another level good and evil meet, something summed-up in that revelation and words from Goethe’s Faust about the “power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” It’s a power that soon dispatches Clive Mendus’ pompous nonentity of a Soviet literary apparatchik Berlioz.

Increasingly writer Ivan Bezdomny (Richard Katz, suitably reserved and observant) becomes involved, as person or author, with Margarita, the force of love, and the writer she calls the Master. As graphics whirl the scene around Moscow, her search for him sees her plunging from a window and riding through the sky.

Like much else, this is caught in the mix of human action and imaginatively used video. Ideas flood the production, while the playing is often, deliberately, subdued. Amid all his fantasy, Bulgakov is writing about the disruption, by Woland’s troupe, Margarita’s love and lone writers’ integrity, of the biggest, real-life fantasy – Stalin’s Russia (George Orwell would capture this fantasy in the totalitarian contradictions of reason and language in Animal Farm and 1984).

Writers under Stalin (plenty were sent to asylums, like those here), like Christ before Pilate, were persecuted but inscribed in history a spirit outdistancing tyranny. McBurney catches this spirit in using the slow movement of Shostakovitch’s tenth symphony, personal love music within a bitter assault on the tyrant. And in an abundant, coherent kaleidoscope of theatricality.

Master: Paul Rhys.
Margarita: Sinéad Matthews.
Natasha/Woman in Booth/Voice of Behemoth/Lapshenikova/Niza: Amanda Hadingue.
Ivan Nikolayich Bezdomny: Richard Katz.
Aloysius Mogarych/Behemoth/Male Orderly/Judas of Kariot: Henry Pettigrew.
Anna/Frightened Little Boy/Behemoth/Female Orderly/Frieda: Josie Daxter.
Frightened Little Boy/Behemoth/Sofia Pavlovna/Super Lightning Telegraphist: Yasuyo Mochizuki.
Koroview Faggot/Afranius: Angus Wright.
Azazella: Ajay Naidu.
Behemoth/Voice of Behemoth/Beskudnikova/Nurse Praskovya Fyodorovna/Archobaldova: Tamzin Griffin.
Mikhail Alexandrovich/Berlioz/Behemoth/Stepan Bogdanovich/Archibald Archobaldovich: Clive Mendus.
Ariman/Grigory Danilovich Rimsky: Thomas Arnold.
Glukharyov/Varenukha/Mark Muribellum: Johannes Flaschberger.
Quant/Dr Stravinsky/Pilate’s Secretary/Matthew the Levite/Caiaphas: David Annen.
Ryukhin/Timothy Tap/Yeshua Ha-Notsri: Cesar Sarachu.
Pontius Pilate: Tim McMullan.

Director: Simon McBurney.
Designer: Es Devlin.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Video: Finn Ross.3D Animation: Luke Halls.
Puppetry: Blind Summit Theatre.
Assistant directors: Sasha Milavic Davies, James Yeatman.

2012-03-23 08:56:22

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