Eamon Flack, the director of Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, brings Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ to the stage, a complex adaptation of the 20th-century Russian literary masterpiece, inspired by the author’s defiance against political repression.
Encountering a Literary Masterpiece
Eamon Flack, the artistic director of Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, recalls how he first encountered The Master and Margarita, a darkly satirical classic by Mikhail Bulgakov, during a grim winter in Brisbane. His profound connection with the novel, gifted by a friend, inspired him to bring it to stage after more than two decades.
A Controversial Literary Figure
Mikhail Bulgakov, born in 1891 in Kyiv, faced relentless criticism and censorship for his anti-revolutionary writings. Despite the harsh political environment, he continued to work on The Master and Margarita, which reflects the damaging impact of misguided beliefs amidst Stalinist Russia.
The Battle Against Repression
Bulgakov wrote the novel in secret under the looming threat of Communist Party suppression. The intricate plot intertwines the arrival of the devil in Moscow, the experiences of The Master, and the final days of Christ, reflecting the author’s defiance and resilience in the face of acute political repression.
A Literary Triumph Amidst Adversity
Despite enduring censorship and hostility, Bulgakov evaded arrest with possible protection from Stalin. The novel remained unpublished until 1973, more than 30 years after the author’s death, serving as a testament to his unwavering determination and resilience.
Adapting a Literary Gem
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Flack initiated the adaptation process, drawing in out-of-work actors to explore the text and find solace in its representation of life, possibility, and joy amidst despair and horror. Adapting the complex and ambitious novel for the stage posed a significant challenge, prompting the cast and crew to start from the basics and focus on the novel’s origin as a work meant to be shared and spoken aloud.
The Unwieldy Nature of the Novel
Cast members and the ensemble reflected on the challenges and rewards of staging The Master and Margarita, acknowledging the novel’s complexity and explosive imagination. The unconventional development process necessitated working from a place of not knowing, leading to the creation of a ‘devised text’ rather than a traditional script.
A Unique Theatrical Experience
The unorthodox development process and reliance on a ‘devised text’ promise to deliver a production that embodies beauty, energy, and resistance to the difficult and crushing times, offering an answer or an inoculation that resonates with the audience. The Master and Margarita is set to run from November 11 to December 10 at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre.