A/V Room









Fragmented evening makes for hellish viewing

Review by David Munro

EVERY so often, theatrical managements fall upon a play and idea which they think is worth pursuing with the result that the audience is faced with two or three productions of the same piece to attend.

This is what has occurred with The Master and Margarita; over the past few months there have been three productions, one in Greenwich (which I haven't seen and so cannot comment on), one in Chichester and now one in London.

Why it has been felt necessary to give vent to a plethora of adaptations of a Russian satirical novel of life under Stalin in the Thirties defeats me.

The National Youth Theatre, whose production it is at the Lyric Hammersmith, defend their choice in a programme note on the basis that it is 'a beacon shining in brazen defiance of censorship', and, as such, is 'a perfect choice to form part of our Young Uncensored season'.

That is as may be, but it still remains a very outmoded dig at bureaucracy and not a very funny one at that.

David Rudkin, in his version at the Lyric, has tried to update it by incorporating e-mails, text messages and mobile phones, together with reference to topicalities such as unnecessary war and oil crises, but it still remains a dramaturgical oddity.

Chichester used it as an excuse for a freewheeling and dramatically exciting theatrical event (see my review of a few weeks back).

David Rudkin, on the other hand, takes a more sombre view, with long stretches of not very interesting dialogue interspersed with scenes from the Master's play and the mayhem caused by diabolical influence.

The result is a fragmented and not very interesting evening.

The plot, for those who do not know it, concerns a playwright, the Master, who has written a play about the confrontation of Pilate and Christ, scenes from which are played out during the course of the play.

He is incarcerated in a lunatic asylum about the time the devil and his attendant demons arrive to cause chaos to the totalitarian State in which the action of the play is set.

Margarita, who is in love with the Master, agrees to co-operate with the devil in return for the Master’s freedom and the play ends with the redemption of the Master, Margarita and, incidentally, Pilate.

As with Hymn tunes, the devil has all the best bits and the one outstanding performance of the evening was Tom Allen, as Woland, as the devil is called.

He plays him a suave, world-weary character whose position in the scheme of things is beginning to become a bore.

It is a beautiful and well thought out characterisation and more effective to me than the rather barnstorming performance of Michael Feast in the same role at Chichester.

His henchmen get good performances from Himaka Jaywardene, Dean Nolan and Matt Smith, particularly the latter, whose arch-demon is an uncanny amalgam of certain well-known chat and game show presenters.

The mortals were less convincing, hampered as they are with dialogue which is both pretentious and sententious, a lot of which I felt could have been usefully cut and so speeded up the action.

Neither the Master, John Hollingsworth, nor his alter-ego, Vanya (Ross Armstrong), seemed happy in their roles, while the Margarita, Shakira Brooking, gave no hint of the depth of emotion or despair the part called for.

The minor parts were adequately filled, with Alexandra Maher standing out with an amusing characterisation of an insecure, devoted secretary.

The director, John Hoggarth, marshalled his troops well in the big ensemble scenes, where he was able to call upon the cohorts of the National Youth Theatre's players to great effect.

I was not so happy with his management of the characters in the dialogue scenes, which tended to be static; in particular, the play extracts seemed superfluous to the main action, which they shouldn't have been as they basically form the mainspring of the resolution of the play.

I agree he was not helped by the dramatisation but the net result was not a happy one.

The material he was given required a firmer hand to direct it than it got, which is a pity, as he had a lot of apparently talented players who gave the impression of being uncertain and underused.

The monolithic sets of the second act which rolled on and off and turned about to greater effect than the actors placed on or about them, were designed by Laura Hopkins.

It was sad that the talent she showed over these was not reflected in the costumes, which were a mish-mash of styles and period, and looked as if the cast had just picked them up from the charity shops, in King Street.

I hate to knock a worthy enterprise such as the National Youth Theatre, but it is hard to recognise the vibrant and exciting organisation which gave us memorable evenings, such as Zigger Zagger, in the production at the Lyric.

Perhaps Faliraki, which also is in their season, is a hark back to the good old days; I hope so, because I would hate to have their achievements judged on The Master and Margarita alone, as it wouldn't be fair.

They have done well in the past and I am sure they will do so again in the future, but not, on the strength of this production, today.

The Master and Margarita, based on a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov; adapted by David Ridkin.
Director, John Hoggarth; Designer, Laura Hopkins; Lighting, Nigel Edwards; Sound, Nick Manning;
Movement, Jacob Dorff-Petersen; Music, Tristan Parkes.
CAST: Ben Aldridge; Tom Allen; Amy-Samantha Edwards; Ross Armstrong; Lucy Atkinson; Max Bennet; Shakira Brooking; Sarah-Jayne Butler; Nikolai Calcoen; Loel Cottrell; Charlie Covell; Sally Crabshaw; Hannah Ellis; Been Garlick; Edward Hancock; Rebecca Hardwick; John Hollingsworth; Daniel Ings; Himaka Jawarardene; Jazz Linnott-Bruce; Hamish MacDougall; Alexandra Maher; Richard Maxted; Harry Melling; Sarah Jayne Morgan; Dean Nolan; Kemi O’Rourke; Carlyss Peer; Sarah Price; Luke Rabbito; Reece Ritchie; Matt Smith; Beth Stobbart; Katie Underwood; Shane Zaza. Producer: The National Youth Theatre
Lyric Theatre, King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0QL.
Aug 20 – Sept 11, 2004
Mon - Sat: 7.30pm; Midweek Matinees at 1.30pm
25th Aug. I, 8 and 9th September
Sat Mat. 2.30pm
21, 28th Aug and 4, 11 September
(No perf. - 30th Aug)
Box Office:- 08700 500 511

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