The Master and Margarita
Director: Simon McBurney
Writer: Simon McBurney
Based on: Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel
Cast: David Annen, Thomas Arnold, Josie Daxter, Johannes Flaschberger, Tamzin Griffin, Amanda Hadingue, Richard Katz, Sinéad Matthews, Tim McMullan, Clive Mendus
Part of: Wiener Festwochen
Moscow, 1939. The writers Berlioz and Besdomny are in the middle of a discussion about the existence, or better yet actual non-existence of Jesus, when they are interrupted by a stranger who tells them a story of how he was present during Pontius Pilate’s trial of Jesus. Then the stranger goes on to predict Berlioz rather gruesome death, which promptly happens. Turns out, said stranger is actually the devil. In the guise of the black magician Voland, he and his associates came to wreak havoc in Moscow.
Simon McBurney made an excellent adaptation of the book with a really cool and rather minimalistic stage design and a good cast. I liked it much better than I liked the book.
It wasn’t only possible for McBurney to shorten the book and cut some things, it was actually necessary. Even cut, the play was 3 hours long. But McBurney was smart about it and cut all the right things – the further chaos that the devil causes, most of the MASSOLIT stuff. Basically what remains of the book is what I actually liked best about it: the story of Pilate and the story of the Master and Margarita herself (also shortened).
I wholeheartedly approve of this. And not only because it was about 100 degrees in the theatre and it was a bit difficult to really enjoy it under these circumstances. But it is a testament to how good the play actually is that I wasn’t in danger of falling asleep at all – not even once, despite the heat and the length.
The cast was also excellent. I liked that Begemot was played by a woman, even though he remained very male (especially since they cut the only female companion Voland had) and that they modernized his crudeness as well.
The stage design was really cool, very minimalistic with a lot of projections and video. Sometimes a little too much was going on and I would have liked fewer transitions between scenes. But that’s just a minor complaint.
Summarising: A very nice night at the theatre – even if you’re not a great fan of the book.