As you take your seat for this most recent staged version of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, you will first notice a cat in tight black furs playing a violin and swinging on the bars of a cage. A Soviet-style placard will boast the name of the capital where the action takes place: MOCKBA (Moscow).
The setting is 1930s USSR in the arrogant age of atheism. But with the arrival of the Devil and the recent “publication” of a work on Pontius Pilate, the Soviet characters of the play are thrown into the dark and twisted world of the religious and the magical.
The whole design of the play is clever and sexy, with ostentatious make-up and costumes against a minimalist backdrop. A great performance of Margarita by Cassie Barraclough conveys the stifling atmosphere of this bureaucratic nation; she is a woman struck down by love for her Master, a severe hero character played by Ollo Clark. The fated lovers must have dealings with the ominous crowd of the Underworld in order to at last regain their freedom.
There is music intermingled with straight theatre and, although the cast are not a professional dance troupe, the exciting choreography makes a very stimulating and enjoyable watch. Matt Monaghan curiously pulls off his role as a talking cat, and Satan himself (Max Hoehn) is as much a comic anti-hero as he is treacherous.
There are moments of sobriety when the labours of a young Christ are seen in detail. Jonnie McAloon looks pure and tortured in his role of Yeshua, fighting the cynicism raged against him by Pontius Pilate (Joe Bayley), and these ordeals of the Biblical beings are paralleled by the agony of the modern lovers. Yet this is a political satire which should entice some laughter, and so the director manages to steer the tone of the play from the sombre to the height of absurd.
The plot is slightly unhinged by the rapidity of the story-telling, and the jumps between dialogue and musical farce are disorientating, but none of these criticisms weaken the play as a whole. The acting is strong and this adaptation of the Bulgakov novel by the student crew is ambitious and praise-worthy. The play is not in real-time and may be deemed complicated, but my advice to the viewer would be to leave rationale behind at the Box Office to become submerged in this world of madness and beauty.
The Master and Margarita is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival C Soco Venue, August 6th-August 30th. Go to www.oudsdobulgakov.com for details.