Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita wasn’t released during his lifetime. Why? Well, as he had such a fraught, capricious, and nightmarish time creating it. Described as an “exuberant comic masterpiece”, the author didn’t quite feel so enamoured with the thing.
Indeed, he got so fed up with the manuscript he flung it into his fire in a fit of despair. He changed his mind afterwards and had to re-write it all from memory, and this included endlessly re-writing the first chapter in some berserk pursuit of perfection. Dedicated? Yes. Quite dangerously so, it would seem, but perfecting one’s art is about such lunacy.
The Master and Margarita
It were first published in Russia back in 1966 (Bulgakov died in 1940), and was only published in paperback in the UK in 1997! Bloody hell! It’s a massively celebrated work, though, and is still the subject of plays and films. Which is nice.
So what is the goddamn plot, already? The devil, disguised as a magician, descends upon 1930s Moscow with a mischievous band of hooligans. This lot include a pince-nez wearing madman, Behemoth the giant talking cat, and an expert assassin.
Their aim appears to be to confuse the bejeezus out of locals (being untrustworthy scumbag atheists of course, the Russians deny all of it), and they cause complete and utter havoc, including a memorable chapter where the devil has citizens spontaneously bursting into song and dance.
A seminal buke from the 20th century which weaves philosophy with satire and fantasy, it’s certainly one any serious literary fan should take on board. Don’t just leave it there on your bookshelf either, Hipster, get it read already!
There’s a joyous sense of anarchy to the novel, along with the social commentary. But all of that does mean it’s absolutely terrific for a stage adaptation. And that’s what many creatives have done, taking varying artistic approaches to the characters in the book.
The giant cat Behemoth, for example, presents a particular issue. But directors often cast a human in the role dressed as a cat. It’s either that or they have a giant puppet, as one production did in 2010. But it’s definitely one to try and catch, if theatre is your thing.