Review: The Master & Margarita, Unity Theatre, Liverpool

‘Manuscripts don’t burn’ according to the devil, and the troupe that have stormed the Unity Theatre don’t look like burning out any time soon either.

The Lodestar Theatre Company have produced an electrically colourful adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novelĀ The Master and Margarita; a brilliant satire on the wrong-doings of the Russian elite during Stalinist rule. The devil, under the guise of Professor Woland, arrives in Moscow with his troupe of mischief makers, among them his faithful and vibrantly dressed ‘choir-master’ Koroviev and perhaps more intriguingly a giant black cat called Behemoth. Think of a sharp-shootin’, gun-wieldin’ Puss in Boots with a twisted, murderous streak, and you’re not far off.

Woland descends upon Moscow, taking the head (quite literally) of Berlioz, the director of one of the biggest publishing houses in the city, via an unfortunate collision with a tram. However, the incident is not at all unfortunate, proving nothing more than the amusing and grotesquely frightening doings of Woland and his merry band. His death is the falling of a domino, the consequences of which go from the trivial to the astronomical in the sleight of hand it takes to pull off a magic trick.

And magic tricks are just one of the charmingly innovative techniques used by a cast brimming with talent. Simon Hedger’s Koroviev is the main conjurer, impressing enough to make knots untie themselves and mortgage deeds disappear behind handkerchiefs. And the clever use of buzzing theatre technologies such as video mapping, digital animation and motion capture, compliments rather than opposes the Stalinist era setting. The theatre is at one moment the modest dregs of a failed writer’s basement and the next, a lavishly sprawled, penthouse office suite of high society.

The title lends it’s alliterative tune from one of the many stories that weave in and out of each other, that of the Master- a desperate writer, imprisoned in a mental hospital and suffering the scathing rejections of the Moscow, literary elite- and Margarita, his devoted lover who would do anything to see the Master’s book accepted by those critics whom she has swore revenge on.

She may even go as far as to make a pact with the devil, and this particular thread of a giant Moscow mosaic is but one of the enthralling stories told by this production with such humour, such horror, such amazement and such devilish delight.
Just how much havoc and destruction can the devil and a talking, black cat leave in 1930’s Moscow? Professor Woland and company await your arrival!

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