Daring to unravel a Russian classic
By Christine Moffat
M + M is the theatrical reworking of Bulgakov’s classic Russian novel The Master and Margarita by exploratory masters the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble for this year’s Melbourne Festival. Approaching such a novel with reverence, and producing a slavish retelling is not in this Ensemble’s vocabulary. Instead, this innovative group always attempt to crack the code underpinning the work of art, and present its inner workings to the audience. Unfortunately, in this production they have taken a risk that has not entirely paid off.
Some elements of this show are truly superb. The set design by Anna Cordingley and Romaine Harper is outstanding, and used extensively and with great effect by director Daniel Schulusser. Every performer (Johnny Carr, Josh Price, Nikki Shiels, Karen Sibbing, Emily Tomlins, Mark Winter & Edwina Wren) bravely attacks the show with energy, commitment and obvious talent.
Deconstructing such rich source material is ambitious for when it comes to reconstructing, how do you decide which elements must be reinstated? The attempt to connect the novel to Pussy Riot and modern Russian social oppression is disjointed. Instead of combining these themes, the performance gives the sense of empty, barren space between them. The program invites the audience to view the piece as “…theatrical architecture…”, but the parts are too loosely connected to achieve this. It could be better compared to blueprints and a collection of building materials.
It is not a narrative that this production lacks, but rather any emotional resonance. The vignettes performed on stage are diaspora; closer to resembling performance art than theatre, but not managing the shock or provocation common to that art form either. Whether this production succeeds in affecting others in its audience emotionally, or merely works visually, the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble have achieved an outcome that can inform and feed their future works.
Sometimes parts do not create a cohesive and greater whole. In approaching a seemingly impossible novel, this Ensemble should impress us in the attempt, and in the many successful moments it produces. Sadly, this reconstruction still feels as if it has major elements of the original source missing. It is like a beautiful watch that has been rebuilt without hands – each component is lovingly crafted, but it has no way of performing as intended and so we have no way of receiving its ultimate message.
Oct 12 – 16 (no show Oct 15)
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda
Tickets: $65 / $50 / Under 30s $35, Student $25
Bookings: theatreworks.org.au, 03 9534 3388, or Ticketmaster 136 100