How in just a few words can one do justice to Mikhail Bulgakov’s iconic, if for many years obscure, novel, and Complicite’s first rate adaptation for the stage? Bulgakov’s work, which remained unpublished in his own lifetime, is a reaction against Soviet oppression that challenges the communist party’s atheist line; introduces issues of historicism by questioning the events that led to Jesus’ death; explores what it means to make a pact with the devil, and, above all, proclaims the virtues of mercy.
Complicite’s adaptation, which cleverly refers to the subsequent history of Bulgakov’s creation within it, introduces all of the visual elements required to bring the piece to life. Directed by Simon McBurney, cameras film, and simultaneously project their alternative view of, the action, and Blind Summit Theatre introduce an element of puppetry. Stage and lighting trickery carry off moments such as the decapitation and reattaching of a head, while the audience feels very much a part of the experience as a camera is cast over them and topical references are made to iPads.
Designer Es Devlin, responsible for the Olympic closing ceremony, and lighting designer Paul Anderson can take much of the credit for creating such a stunning production. Flames appear to lick around the characters, we feel the genuine power of a horse galloping through the sky, and the set all but shatters to pieces before our very eyes.
Add in sometimes chilling, but always highly sensitive, performances from Paul Rhys and Susan Lynch in the title roles, and the only words that can really do justice to this masterpiece are as follows: go, and enjoy what will be one of the great theatrical experiences of your life!
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Barbican press team.
Until 19 January 2013 at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS with start times of 13.30, 16.00 and 19.15. Tickets (£16-£42): 020 7638 8891 or visit the Barbican website.