Friday, 23 March 2012

The Master and Margarita - Complicite at The Barbican

Where do I start with this? The Master and Margarita has always been one of my favourite books. It was recommended to me by my mother when I was about 20, I read it, couldn't put it down and it's been on my bookshelf ever since.

It was written by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov in 1939 but, due to the political control over literary publications at the time, it wasn't published until 1966 long after his death in 1940. To say it's a complex novel is something of an understatement.  It's magical, thought provoking and highly complicated. The main story is about the Devil and his entourage (including a talking cat) arriving in Moscow and creating havoc. It's also a take on organised religion and how it's lost it's way, and is about self-sacrifice, love, revenge, guilt, actually I could go on and on with a list of topics featured in this novel.
It travels from Moscow to Jerusalem, bringing in Pontius Pilate condemning Jesus to death, alongside parties in hell and literary meetings in Moscow.  It's the story of a novelist stuck in a lunatic asylum and his mistress and the question of whether everything is really preordained.

It's complex, skips hither and thither through time and storylines and yet is a wonderfully compulsive read that you remember long after the final page. No-one has successfully turned it into a play or film though some have considered it seriously (including Andrew Lloyd-Webber who looked at doing a musical version). Complicite and it's director Simon McBurney have met the challenge head on and using the huge theatre space at London's Barbican Theatre, have produced a work that is heart stopping in its visual impact, and takes you through the story at quite a pace. The music ranges from Shostakovich to The Rolling Stones giving added drama and rhythm to the movement of the ensemble. Three hours is a long time to sit through a play and I must admit the first half of an hour and 45 mins did leave me a bit numb with a desire to walk around for the full interval. The second half brings everything together and from the moment the actors appear back on the stage they've got you on the edge of your seat until the end.

Sadly it's now unlikely you'll get a ticket although it is running to April 7th but I would queue all night for returns. If you like physical theatre and especially if the book is on your favourites list then you mustn't miss this treat.

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