Going out With a Bang? A Farewell to the London Theater Scene

Cultural life in London was my salvation: next to a very interesting job at the Board of the EBRD, I spent a compensatory (in the sense of giving my soul some kind of balance) time in London’s theatres, opera houses and concert halls. This was a truly amazing, exhilarating, and sometimes baffling experience.
When I saw the Complicite Group staging one of the most confusing, inspiring and creative novels of the 20th century, i.e. Mikhail Bulgakov’’s “The Master and Margarita” I had to get tickets, evwn though this interferdd with my movers, my own and colleagues’ farewell parties, and much more. The same (?)production had been staged at Vienna’s 2012 festival, but I had not been able to see it. I had only been introduced to Bulgakov’s extensive work one year earlier, and had been fascinated by its satiricism of 1930’s Moscow early Stalinism as portrayed by the Writers’ Council, and their infatuation with their regular restaurant experience, with the fight for decent accommodation, as exemplified by the on-goings about the apartment in Sadoyafska, the revolutionary reading of the new Testament by turning Pontius Pilatus into a modern-day viceroy in a remote, climatically challenged Province, falling in love with Jesus, with the overlaid story of the incompetent Master and his resourceful and devoted Margarita, who goes through Goethe’s Witches Sabbath in order to reconnect with her beloved Master (not without joy!), and all the misdeeds of the Master’s entourage all over the place.
Well, Complicite has managed to put on a show – and what a show it was. They reduced the novel to the love story between Master and mMargarita, to a series of discussions in the looney bin where some of the protagonists had been sent by the devilish Woland – and they do this extremely well. Fascinating video images of Moscow and of (crumbling) walls of the Writer’s restaurant/the coveted apartment on Sadofskaya, stylized props managing to portray the multi-layered venues from the Park, to the Subway, the Flat, and other non-specified venues, all that shows the skill of the director.
But still: while this is an absolutely fascinating (partial) rendition in itself, it is not able (not surprisingly) to portray the crazy, fascinating, multi-layerability of the original story. Too much of local colorit, of the Moscow scene in the 30’s, of the impending or already existing bureaucratization of the Russian Revolution, of the fight between “poeticism” and impending imposed Soviet Realism – all this is getting lost. Maybe as a real necessity, because “The Master and Margarita” is as impossible to put on stage in its full juicy content as is Karl Kraus “Die letzten Tage der Menschheit”.
The “philosophical” question to the starry-eyed theater-goer is: should these essentially prosa works be put on the stage? My own /resounding – message would b e: YES. This does make fascinating theatre; it gives the directors a lot of freedom of what to eliminate, what to shorten, what to emphasize, to create dialogues which the novel does not contain, to tell a story “based on the novel X”. Too few writers nowadays write for the theatre, which I find a shame. Theatre is such a powerful medium to tell stories, to search the human soul, to search the universe for answers of why increasing numbers of us populate this limited world.
While fascinating, this production does not exonerate the visitor from reading this one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.


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