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If anyone was going to succeed in bringing Mikhail Bulgakov’s satirical novel to the stage, it’s surely Simon McBurney with his company Complicite. He doesn’t disappoint.

More than a decade in the writing and not published until 1966 (he died in 1940) Bulgakov’s critique of Soviet society has all the qualities of a multi-layered hallucinogenic nightmare and McBurney’s production, with its modern references and a soundtrack encompassing Philip Glass and the Stones, captures its surreal properties.

From a stage initially bare but for a row of chairs, he takes us on a whirlwind journey in time and location from Moscow in 1939 (where dissenting poets and writers are incarcerated in mental institutions and suspiciously untimely deaths are a far from rare occurrence) to Jerusalem in the time of Pontius Pilate and the crucifixion.

Projected images create imploding buildings and, as if by magic, a wildly galloping horse from wooden chairs moved in synchrony by the cast. A pond-side kiosk becomes the cabin of a tram, and Behemoth, the feline element of the devil’s retinue, is a   lecherous, scrawny, man-size puppet with glowing red eyes.

Paul Rhys has a mesmerising intensity as the troubled Master, whilst Sinead Matthews (as his devoted Margarita) bravely strips naked, smearing herself with a magic blue concoction to play hostess at Satan’s ball.

At over three hours long, it’s not always an easy ride, but despite occasional sensory overload and the sometimes unclear interweaving of the various plot strands, it’s definitely one worth taking.

Barbican , Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Tube: Barbican
Until April 7

£16-£42
barbican.org.uk

- Louise Kingsley


Talkback


The Master and Margarita - theatre review
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