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
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
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
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
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
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
It is a puzzling, infuriating but ultimately satisfying play,
and a marvellous evening of theatre that no theatre-lover should
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
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,
In Repertory until Friday, September 24, 2004.
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mat: Weds, 2pm.
Box Office: - 01234 781312.