The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov in a new adaptation by David Rudkin
National Youth Theatre
Lyric Hammersmith
(2004)

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The National Youth Theatre has given many famous actors their first taste of a large stage. This production allows no fewer than 36 youngsters to appear at the Lyric, Hammersmith and who knows? Maybe some will be the great names of the future.

This new stage version of Bulgakov's allegorical novel has both great strengths and weaknesses.

Without a doubt, at three hours and ten minutes including an interval, it is overly long. Further, the touches that take it out of its own period and into the present day such as e-mails and cellphones add nothing and detract from the underlying message.

John Hoggarth's direction is strongest in the special effects that see heads detached from bodies, people appearing through chairs and unaided human flight. He owes a lot to designer Laura Hopkins and some expert lighting provided by Nigel Edwards.

They allow speedy transitions between scenes involving Pilate and Jesus; The Master and Margarita and the theatre of dreams and nightmares. Best of all, is a mass striptease that defies belief. These help to build up a real impression of the magical qualities that have made the novel so popular.

The acting is of mixed quality as one might expect and several of the performers, especially the Master, John Hollingworth, gabbled their lines and had difficulty in making themselves heard and understood.

The best of the acting came from the group around the pick of the bunch, Tom Allen as the sinister, Black Magicaian Woland, and a good comic actor, Himaka Jayawardena as Azazel. They are well supported by inter alia, Matt Smith as a very camp Bassoon, Dean Nolan's giant cat Behemoth and Shakira Brooking as Margarita.

It is always a pleasure to see Bulgakov performed and this production has some inventive ideas and provides a showcase for a selection of good, young actors. It really does need some serious pruning, though.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher