Mikhail Bulgakov's rediscovery as one of the most dramatic of twentieth-century Russian writers continues apace: two London productions of his Black Snow last year, and now the second Master within a few months.
Bulgakov's meditations upon cowardice and self-denial (in the sense of repudiating one's own nature) flit between a present in which the Devil passes through Moscow with his bizarre entourage, tempting the beautiful Margarita as he goes, and a first-century Judaea in which Pilate wrestles with his responsibilities. The strands meet in the Master of the title, Margarita's beloved and the author of the Pilate story, whose liberation from an asylum she earns by submitting to Old Nick.
David Graham-Young's version concentrates on plot at the expense of the fantastic trimmings: the Devil is suave but not preternaturally urbane, Pilate no more than an honest state functionary. This approach, while conveying the thematic content, leaves anyone who hasn't read the book wondering vaguely what's so marvellous about it. The abilities of the Four Corners company would be shown to greater advantage in a work not so persistently at odds with their naturalistic style.
Written for The Independent.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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