Reviewed by Paul Davies
In my humble opinion this is an important work of theatre. Bulgakov is a major contributor to 20th Century culture who’s influence vaulted the walls of Communist Russia.
The play posits the dilemma to all of how you would behave if artistic integrity could damage you or those close to you. But also manages to present the choices available to leadership as less than clear-cut, and explores cause and effect on a grand scale.
In less talented hands than Megan Dansie‘s as director layers of the piece might have been missed. Black comedy can easily become too black or too comedic. At it’s best, as happened here, it can make members of the audience laugh in inappropriate places, then catch themselves!
Dansie’s first master-stroke is to have Stirling Players produce. The set is first-class and imaginative. Sound and light, as they should be, are unnoticed in the main, although the back projection was superfluous. Then she assembled a brilliant cast of strong actors. There is not a weak-link amongst the whole fourteen of them, and, as with all good casting, it’s hard to imagine anyone else inhabiting the roles.
Gary George as Bulgakov the main protagonist, draws us skillfully into his dilemma. While Peter Davies as a very “uncle-y” Joe Stalin makes it hard to dislike the psychopath. Some of the quick-fire dialog between these two was Python-esq. Then suddenly we’re shown Stalin’s true colours and the laughter stops while we thank God that we do not live in that time and place. Sharon Malujlo as Yelena plays the dutiful wife gently and brilliantly and Samuel Rogers and Joshua Coldwell as the two actors get to have the most fun, they let it show.Their chemistry on-stage looks at times like a seasoned double-act. David Lockwood as the doctor gets the great humor from the script I was reminded once or twice of Dr Evil from Austin Powers. Steve Marvanek as Vladimir is a bit of a revelation. This is the best thing I’ve seen him do. He is at times threatening and then conciliatory. The menace in his quietness is palpable. Philiip Linton‘s experience shows. never a wasted word or gesture. Everything though-through and thoughful. Alex Antoniou as Grigory was acting along nicely in the piece until his death scene which showed his ability at another level entirely. Miriam Keane is possessed of a certain stage presence which is hard to define, but there is no doubt that she is an actor who’s ability draws the eye when she’s on stage. Matthew Houston as Segei, Brendan Clare as Stepan and Lauren Scarfe as Eva all work very well in their supporting roles.