The Master and Margarita
Complicite doing what they do best at The Barbican
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We read the Mikhail Bulgakov novel a few years ago and struggled to remember what it was about - something about a talking cat and people going mad and Satan putting on a magic show. All of this happens in Complicite's masterful reinvention, while also threading through it the story of the eponymous book burner and an ongoing debate between Pontius Pilate and Jesus. We forgot about that bit.
Complicite's collective skill is to capture the imagination using both highly technical wizardry, fourth wall busting direct narration, physical theatre and break neck changes of pace. It's a long production, 3-and-a-bit-hours all in, but well worth persevering with, even if we weren't quite sure what the conclusion was. Ideas and concepts will find their way into your subconscious like bits of shrapnel, leaving you to pick them out at your leisure days afterwards, still struggling with notions of religion, good and bad, fate and destiny.
There were only a few eye-rolling 'not again' moments, which will only be noticed by the avid Complitice fan - the flapping of paper, those rickety train carriage scenes - and the only real criticism we had was the occasional overwhelming nature of all the technical gadgetry. There were times when the cameraman was more interesting than the object they were trying to focus you in on. But maybe that was the point...
However, most of the trickery filled us with our love of theatre and illusion. The potty mouthed cat was an obvious crowd pleaser and this:
was reimagined with amazing projected animations, that had a cartoon-y superman flying effect, not in the slightest bit ruined when the cast lifted Margarita into the air to continue her flight.
In short there is probably no theatre company better to bring to life the magic surrealism of The Master and Margarita. And we might remember bits of this re-telling for a lot longer.
Runs until 7 April at The Barbican, get tickets here.
Photo: Bohumil Kostohryz