The Master and Margarita

Tue 20th – Sat 24th October 2015

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 22:55 on 20th Oct 2015

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This play is seriously weird. It's got that Joycean 'how the hell did you get them to publish this' vibe, and at times feels like it needs a good pruning from the editor. It's kind of a play within a play that manages to burst out of the box and before you know it, nobody has the slightest idea what's life and what's play and if everyone's just mad. This is what makes it completely mesmerising, and ultimately very affecting. Although it took a little while to really get going, and some of the scenes got away from the production a little bit, The Master and Margarita is an enthralling spectacle.

The cast did a really great job bringing human faces to often bizarre characters. The show was utterly stolen by Ben Walsh, playing the literally diabolical Woland. With his hands serenely folded in his lap, and his chin in the air, he becomes, over time, a truly chilling presence, but always remains charming and super watchable. Joe Pitts is endearing and funny and tragic as the writer Ivan, shunting between comedy and tragedy, and always producing a spot-on, sneeze-like "hundrepercent!" Eleanor Mack is great too, taking an incredibly fearless running leap at the role of Margarita, in all its weirdness.

Altogether, the cast create a feeling of cacophony, everything happening everywhere all at once. This effect works well with the delightfully unwieldy shape of the plot. Everyone is over the top and carnivalesque, but the characters remain sympathetic and relatable throughout.

The directorial approach to the play is ambitious and mostly impressive. In fact, one of the only pervading problems was more technical than artistic: the multi-layered stage set-up created an imbalance between lines delivered close to the audience and lines from further away, and this made comprehension of the dialogue problematic at times. The stylised set and costumes were appropriate, though, and use of music and projections onto the backdrops was interesting.

There were a few mistakes and mix ups, including the tragic misfiring of a pistol in the first act (twice can be regarded as misfortune...) but these seemed mostly to be first-night hiccoughs which will probably be ironed out very soon. And although it felt like it took a little while for the audience to be completely invested in the play (the first 20 minutes or so were a little lacklustre in terms of audience reactions), by the end, everyone was on board.

The Master and Margarita is an interesting, challenging, amusing, confronting, thought-provoking night out, and although there were a few stumbles, and it took a little while to get the audience onside, it was on the whole spectacular. Beware of weirdness, but if that's no issue, then I highly recommend it.

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