Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A site specific adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic Faustian tale with delightful comic and serious characters played with great elan by a seasoned group of young actors. The tale is told in a series of scenes and vignettes using dialogue, music, song and dance with elements of pantomime and comic turns. In other hands, perhaps, such diversity would be a recipe for a bitty show but in the hands of this group all the elements serve the director’s vision and bring Bulgakov’s satirical masterpiece well and truly into the realm of theatre.
While the audience arrives the stage is already alive; a bent up old woman scrutinises the audience, a chess game is underway and at the rear two gentlemen are having a breezy conversation. A beautiful woman is sitting on a bench holding a bouquet of flowers looking forlorn. The set is minimal; an old wooden radio plays 1930’s dance music. The era is clear but we could be, and are, in a variety of locations.
All the elements of Bulgokov’s novel are here; the two gentlemen turn out to be Berlioz and Ivan who are about to meet the Devil in the form of the mercurial Woland. The love lost woman turns out to be Margarita lamenting the loss of her beloved “Master”, so called by her because of her opinion of his literary mastery, an opinion he does not share. His historical novel on the subject of Pontius Pilate and Christ is rejected by rejected by certain petty minded critics and leads him to reject the world, including his beloved Margarita.
The Devil is played with consumate skill by the show’s director (and co-writer) Max Hoehn, intelligent, witty and with a surprising amount of warmth. Such skill is also evident in David Ralf’s Berlioz (a literary bureaucrat), played with just the right amount of nonchalance and high mindedness. So often in student productions the actors lack the skill to permeate the characters with a sense of time and place and of giving the characters a sense of their real age. Not a whiff of such problems are evident here, the portrayals of the main characters being entirely believable and at times surprising. Cassie Barraclough as Margarita gives a moving portrayal of a woman who never gives up on her love and belief in her ‘master’, but is never maudlin, bringing a sense of strength, fateful duty and touches of a femme fatale to her role.
From the cast members come live violin music, classical guitar and piano playing, and an excellent jazz ballad style song, not to mention a contemporary dance style routine and some rather cheeky comic Charleston by two nurses!
Most of the cast play several characters each and this is done seamlessly, as are the costume changes which take place in the darkness behind the audience, the actors at times disregarding this fourth wall and frolicking within audience space. The tumbledown look of the C Soco venue and the rather minimal set evoked perfectly an atmosphere of 1930’s Moscow. There was a small technical issue of an often used floor light which might interfere with the view of those seated at the extremities (of which I was one), but generally the lighting was atmospheric and well timed.
An altogether highly recommended evening’s entertainment put together by a group of many talents, well scripted and adapted by Raymond Blankenhorn and Max |Hoehn. Although there are some comic and ridiculous moments one is never far away from the profound and serious intent of Bulgokov’s original vision.