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Master and Margarita provides devilishly good fun!



Review by David Munro

CHICHESTER has pulled off a spectacular Coup de Theatre with its production of The Master and Margarita.

Steven Pimlott has filled the empty apron stage with a magical, glittering and visually delightful scenes and tableaux to follow the fall from grace of the Master and his lover, Margarita.

The play itself, adapted by Edward Kemp from a posthumous novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, is set in the Russia of the Thirties, where The Master has written a play on Pontius Pilate’s confrontation with Jesus, so the action switches between the events surrounding the production and the play itself.

Complications ensue from the arrival of a troupe of strolling players, who are, in fact, demons sent from Hell and chaos ensues.

The Master gets sent to a lunatic asylum/ hospital and Margarita sells herself to the devil to procure his release and their ultimate redemption.

On to these bare bones of a plot are grafted murder, lechery and general mayhem involving music, magic and mystery. A potent, and at times puzzling, dramatic brew.

It is a free-wheeling play but the acting is not. It is powerful, intense and well-disciplined, a tour-de-force of ensemble playing, led by Samuel West and Claire Holman, as the eponymous hero and heroine.

All the cast are so good that it is invidious to single any of them out.

However, Graham Turner, as the arch-demon, squeezes every last ounce out his conniving, double-dealing and thoroughly unscrupulous character.

Martin Duncan steps out of his directorial and administrative role to play – surprise , surprise - the director of a theatre, but more than that, he gets involved in the general shenanigans of the plot, giving him a chance to show that his acting talent equals those of his company.

Jonathan Cullen, as an enigmatic figure, who seems to represent the Master’s other self, was very effective, especially in the closing speech which rounds off the action. Noma Dumezweni, as a conjuring talking demonic cat, showed that under a pantomime skin lurked a good actress………

I could go on boring you with praise, so you will have to accept that Stehen Pimlott’s cast of actors, acrobats, magicians and musicians do him, the author, and the audience proud.

The dramatic unities do not play a great part in the evening and sometimes it is hard to follow what exactly is being meant by a particular speech or action.

It is clearly a satirical attack on Russia under the Communists and based, it would seem, on the author’s own experiences and frustrations.

According to the programme notes, the main protagonist of the novel was a writer, not a dramatist, but Edward Kemp’s decision to change him to a dramatist, and substitute a play-within-a-play for a novel- within-a-novel, works well.

This is a production which would bear re-visiting several times as there are nuance under the gallimaufry which I think are missed on the first viewing, where one is dazzled by the production and the performances.

If, therefore, I have misquoted, or misled anyone over the plot, or its meaning, I apologise.

My only excuse is that my enjoyment dumbed down my intellectual attention.

It is a puzzling, infuriating but ultimately satisfying play, and a marvellous evening of theatre that no theatre-lover should miss.

I hope it will transfer to London so it can get the benefit of a greater audience, which it deserves, but, in the meantime, don’t miss it at Chichester, you’ll regret it if you do.

The Master and Margarita, by Edward Kemp, based on a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Director, Stephen Pimlott; Designer, Alison Chitty; Lighting, Peter Mumford; Sound, Matt McKenzie; Magic Advisor, Tom Silburn; Illusion design, Scott Penrose; Movement - Toby Sedgwick.
CAST: David Killick; Joe Anderson; Samuel West; Ricky Fearon; Martin Duncan; Barry McCarthy; James Loye; Matt Costain; Clare Holman; Jumix Inocian; Matt Costain; Steve Elias; Graham Turner; Toby Sedgwick; Michael Feast; Noma Dumezweni; Clare Foster; Daisy Haggard; Vicki McManus; Anne Lowe.
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
In Repertory until Friday, September 24, 2004.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mat: Weds, 2pm.
Box Office: - 01234 781312.

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