A Disappearing Number, so wasn't sure if I fancied the company's latest venture, The Master and Margarita. But with the excellent Sinéad Matthews in one of the title roles, and Big Favourite Round These Parts Henry Pettigrew in the ensemble, I decided to give it a chance. Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel about the Devil visiting Soviet-era Moscow is apparently famously impenetrable (I haven't read it myself) and so it is with Simon McBurney's stage adaptation. Its Möbius plot encompasses two writers, both inspired to write identical stories that are essentially the Gospel According to Pontius Pilate, only for both to have them rejected by the authorities for their suggestion that Jesus/Yeshua actually existed. There's also a demonic variety show, a ball attended by history's most notorious killers, and the titular doomed affair.
The story begins with Ivan (Richard Katz, formerly of The EnsembleTM - there's a few of them back on the stage in the next couple of weeks and months) having just written the Pilate story, seeing a friend decapitated by a tram, as the sinister Woland had predicted. Believing the Devil to be roaming Moscow, Ivan ends up in the lunatic asylum along with the Master (Paul Rhys.) The latter has also written the Pilate Gospel, and his experience of trying to get it published ties in with his affair with Margarita (Matthews.) When they are separated, Margarita turns to Woland (also Rhys) who takes her on a magical journey over the city and into its heart. It's a sprawling story that's told with a lot of visual flair. The projections (animation by Luke Halls, video by Finn Ross) are among the biggest stars of the show, strips of white light that reassemble themselves into geometric shapes and outline rooms that expand or shrink, are the key visual signature.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, adapted by Simon McBurney, Edward Kemp and the company, is booking until the 7th of April at the Barbican Theatre; then continuing on tour to Madrid, Vienna, Recklinghausen, Amsterdam and Avignon.
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes including interval (the first act is 1 hour 45 minutes.)