The Master and Margarita

Based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov

Sleepless Theatre Company

ZOO at St Cuthbert's

From 05 August 2016 to 29 August 2016

Rating: ***

Review by Graeme Strachan

The labrynthine breadth and scope of Mikhail Bilgakov's epic novel, The Master and Margarita, lends itself to interpretation and provides amble substance from which to adapt it into new material. I've seen various takes upon it over the years, and each one has managed to find a sublime new angle from which to shape their production.

Sleepless Theatre is no different in this regard and has opted to focus on the themes of forgiveness and redemption, mirroring the titular Master's unwillingness to free himself both from his incarceration in an asylum and his writer's block that prevents him from finishing his great work. Similarly, Margarita's willingness to do almost anything to save him, and reunite the loving pair, mimics the subject of his book, the fraught relationship between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua the Nazarene.

Rather than a more personal and intimate story, Sleepless has chosen to use broad strokes to tell the story, where the themes are more important than the personal interplay, or the believability of the love of the tragic leads. This gives a more epic quality to the feel of the story, as the themes of redemption and mercy, even at the behest of the Devil, shine through.

It's also worth noting that the decision to stage this devised piece in the towering dome of Saint Cuthbert's Parish Church is both a blessing and a curse. The setting is opulent and staggering, with the huge carved relief of the Last Supper standing as a constant reminder of the biblical background to the story.

However, with no microphones or speakers used, and in constantly asking the audience to move round the body of the kirk, the cast's voices are irritatingly often lost to the ether as they speak their lines away from the crowd.

However, the overall effect is still far more captivating than it is irksome and, as the final Gregorian evensong ends the performance, you'll feel rather wiser, as instructed having done your duty and accepted what you've seen as true.