vineri, 29 iunie 2012

Magnus Corpus Christi – The Master and Margarita

I was guest of The Holland Festival that took place between the 1st and the 28th of June 2012 in Amsterdam. And on the 23rd of June I was given the privilege to see The Master and Margarita, Simon McBurney’s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel. The British director confesses - and I hope it is just a joke- that he took over Bulgakov’s masterpiece so that he may have something to show up with for the opening of The Festival of Avignon. I need to make an observation here about what I consider to be the difference between a typical „Balcanic” attitude towards a festival and an opposite liberal attitude. If the „Balcanic” tendency is to expose the brightest things first, there can be a different liberal tendency of organizing the shows in a festival by other kinds of pragmatic criteria, such as the disponibility of touring of the presented shows, and not on any account by some heroic criterion.
Mikhail Bulgakov wanted to give a book about the devil. His manuscript, once destroyed and many times rewritten, knew 8 versions, and the author died before finishing it completely. Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita was published 26 years after his death. The Master, Bulgakov’s character, wrote a book about mercy (about love, Pontius Pilate and Jesus). His book had almost the same fate as Bulgakov’s novel itself: it was not accepted to be published in atheistic Moscow, under the authoritarian regime of Stalin, therefore the Master burnt it. But „manuscripts don’t burn”. Ivan (re)types the book on the typewriter, under the very eyes of the spectators. It is McBurney’s aim to finish both books in a show that could make the most exquisite cineaste envious.
When following the history of the interpretations of Bulgakov’s novel, I noticed how critics repeatedly wondered: „Who is Woland?”. They could have as well wondered: „Who is the Master?”. Because McBurney inspiringly has chosen Paul Rhys to play both roles. Even more inspiringly, when the Master and Woland are called upon stage at the same time, the role of Woland is given to Cesar Sarachu, the same actor who plays Yeshua. And there is a moment when the Master suddenly shows up out of Woland's black mantle. Also memorable is the final moment when Woland undresses all his black outfit, and Yeshua appears. To McBurney, Manichaeism becomes a first pole of reference when reading the novel: good and evil, light and shadow are but two different sides of the very same coin. Love and mercy, on the one hand, and justice and punishment, on the other, are complementary forces, heading for the same end(ing). Jesus and the Devil become two co-equals echoing the very same voice. In this way, McBurney explores as well as expands the epigraph of the novel that Bulgakov took from Faust:” who are you in the end?”/”I am a part of that power which eternally/desires evil and eternally does good.” (Trans. Hugh Aplin, 2008).
A second pole of reference reunites real Moscow in the late 30’s and the historical Jerusalem, more than two thousand years ago: the meaning of the authority of the state. The show warns us against any of the forms that the authority of the state could ever appear under: communism, fascism, Roman dictatorship, dogma. In these cases people are induced into a false state of "goodness" (Edythe C. Haber) , that is imposed onto them, and out of which both Woland’s „evil" and Jesus’ „truth” are absent. By means of fragmentizing and sharpening Bulgakov’s novel, McBurney builds his show like a kaleidoscope, out of multiple, parallel planes of reality, that overlap on different levels: physical and metaphysical, past-present, historical-mythical, real-fantastical, satirical-lyrical. Preoccupied to occupy the spectator’s range of vision completely, the director becomes obsessed with rectangular, even square shapes, and he delineates the visualized space by using video projections, and at the same time he projects the upfront of figures that are less visible on stage and that can otherwise be seen only from a side angle on stage (e.g. The tormented face of Pontius Pilate, Tim McMullan). The schizophrenic narrative structure of Bulgakov’s text (the double novel) is multiplied by the using of flashes whose cinematographic coherence is thorough. The parallelism of the two main narrative planes (real Moscow, the mythical and historical Jerusalem) is played on through image by establishing certain correspondences among their characters: Ivan-Matthew the Levite, the Magister-Jesus, Woland-Satan, Margarita-Mary (Magdalene), Aloisy-Judas. The link between the two planes is webbed by means of using one and the same background, only the changing projections marking the spatial and temporal differences. Then by engaging different narrative voices (e.g. Angus Wright, the clownish narrator, in the third person, and Sinéad Matthews, Margarita, in the first person), passages from comic, ironical, and satirical, on the one hand, to sober, lyrical, and elevated, on the other, can be encountered in the show. To Bulgakov, going from past to present and backwards purports a deeper meaning: the possibility that two different planes of reality coexist within the same universe is at stake (Laura D. Weeks on Bulgakov's interes in Florenski). The duality of space (real-imaginary) can be surpassed under certain conditions (when body travels at the speed of light).
The success of the show is not attained because of the most ingenious video projections, nor is it the merit of skillful artifices (e.g. Berlioz’s head is magically cut in the watermelon, the tram as well as the equestrian final ride are created by means of the human body and its movement, the actors' manoeuvring of 16 chairs on the stage, projected in the background, red-eyed black puppet-cat Behemoth, the blue burning 3 D Azazelo's cream for Margarita). But the “happiness” of the show consists in an exemplar dosing of detachment and implication. The show has two parts, and both of them can confront interpretation independently, as well as together. In the first part, our attention may slip to the syntax of the show, to the new techniques – employed as solutions-, to the extraordinarily rapid rhythm that this movie on stage gets, to the perfect performance of the actors involved in it, or to the political implications of the authority of the state. This first part has its own roundabout structure, and it starts and ends with the same image: in one plane, Margarita, straight horizontally lying on the floor, smoking, trying to endure the thought that she didn’t manage to go to his place on the day of his disappearance; in another plane, the Master, in the mental institution, deluding in between remembrance of the memory and forgetting of the soul. Meanwhile, the image of the crucifixion which is superbly ambiguously engaged between the two during the entire show is projected: Magnus Corpus Christi. The mental climax is reached when Yeshua is brought in complete nakedness in front of Pontius Pilate: in agreement with Bulgakov, McBurney bets a cookie on the friability and humanity of Jesus. Instead, the incredible emotional intensity reaches its highest peak when the story of the two „heroes” emerges out of the Moscow satire, and it is felt as almost unbearable by the spectator.
Part two isn’t different in the sense that any of the elements above are missing; none of them is in fact absent. But the second part of the show ends the Magnus Corpus Christi. With Woland's help, the Master finishes his book about Pontius Pilate. By one single liberating word, Pontius Pilate is freed from the sin of cowardice, the most terrible of all; and he departs accompanied by nude Yeshua towards the light, the New Jerusalem. The disciple, Ivan/Matthew the Levite (re)writes the Gospel. McBurney gives an ultimate meaning to Bulgakov’s novel: blue Margarita’s flight over Moscow, the redemption of the „master of her heart”, the falling down of the temple’s walls, the heroes’ ride on the back of the apocalyptical horse, and a galactic interpretation of the idea of salvation through love. The eternal resting place has much to do with the state of mind that we call „home” (Laura D. Weeks on paradise being a lot like home), when one feels free and safe. Both Bulgakov and McBurney imagined Eden in this way. A house with Venetian windows and vine reaching the roof, and silence, liberation, and benefic oblivion, in Bulgakov’s view. In cosmic osmosis, the Master and Margarita become a constellation in the British director’s view. Is salvation through love inclusive of the Faustic salvation through knowledge from McBurney’s perspective? Are the two forms of salvation opposite? Or simply different?
McBurney is one of the few European directors nowadays who states a transcendent meaning above the plurality of narrative and theatrical „masks” that he visits (carnival, allegory, satire, parody, puppetry, and fantasy). By using marks of the theater en vogue today he focuses on justifying them in terms of delivering the meanings of the show, and not to just show off. Although the movie blinkers drama, Caesar is given what is Caesar’s: theater is given its part and crown back because of the actors’ excellency in playing. I do not consider myself among those who felt aggressively assaulted by the 3D invasion. On the contrary, I regained myself at the end of the show, light as a feather.

(The Master and Margarita, a show by Simon McBurney/Complicite. Text: Simon McBurney, Edward Kemp & co. Cast: David Annen, Thomas Arnold, Josie Daxter, Johannes Flaschberger, Tamzin Griffin, Amanda Hadingue, Richard Katz, Sinéad Matthews, Tim McMullan, Clive Mendus, Yasuyo Mochizuki, Ajay Naidu, Henry Pettigrew, Paul Rhys , Cesar Sarachu and Angus Wright. Video: Finn Ross, 3D Animation: Luke Halls. Puppetry: Blind Summit Theatre. Premiere: 24 th of March 2012, Barbican Theatre, London. On tour: Madrid 13-15 May, Viena 1-4 June, Recklinghausen 13-16 June, Amsterdam 21-23 June, Avignon 7-16 July, Barcelona 25-28 July).

Dana Tabrea

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