A Long Spoon and Bigger Pants
The Master and the Margarita
Amateur Drama Club
February 4th 2005
Normally when I sit through an ADC show I marvel at the maturity of the performances. This show flailed and struggled in a way that very much belied the players' youth. The cast gave the impression that whatever truths there were in the script were stammering out of the mouths of babes. For kids of this age, there's no difference in the treatment of Jack the Ripper and Peter Sutcliffe as guests to the devil's party. Both are moustache-twirling pantomime baddies. Communism is something you did for GCSE History, not a genuine blight on the lives of half the world's population or a force that would have murdered the author of this play had its existence ever been known. Censorship is something that happened abroad in the bad old days, not something that evangelical Christians and fundamentalist Muslims are campaigning for, something that home secretaries are signing into law.
There's a long literary history to prove that old Nick is a tricky customer to write and perform about. You start out writing a poem about how great god is and before you know it Mr Sulphur Breath is upstaging the goody-goodies, getting all the memorable lines and becoming the archetypal modern hero. It's just as hard if you try to make it blatantly obvious that your devil really is a nasty piece of work. Dennis Potter tried this, having his satanic character rape a profoundly-handicapped girl. His play was banned from television. It's tough, but with Milton, Potter and others like James Hogg and Jim Thompson (never read Pop. 1280 in an election year), it's worth looking on at the struggle.
Perhaps that's what was so disappointing here. There was no evidence that the cast wanted to take up the fight. They seemed happy for the devil to ponce about and do card tricks. Simon Evans' portrayal of the devil was the stand-out performance of the play. Still he never seemed to try to ground the prince of darkness's devilry in any kind of reality. Playing the devil as if he were Frazer Crane was funny but it dislocates us from the real evils of communist Russia or for that matter Roman Judea. Only Dan Mansell managed to lower the temperature in the vertebrae department.
Everybody was acting like fury but nobody seemed to connect. The Master and the Margarita never got their relationship going. It was like watching Ray Mears try to start a fire by rubbing two damp twigs together. The levels were all wrong.
Perhaps in an attempt to stand out from the cacophony, Nadia Kamil took her clothes off. She is amazing (the program notes were right). In black lacy pants she's actually jaw-dropping. One of the jobs though, surely of a director is to stop this kind of grandstanding. Once Nadia had (so to speak) let the cat out of the bag, the only real chance the play had to regain the attention of the male audience was that she follow her ambition (program notes again) and run away to join a circus. Even worse, or better depending on what you thought you’d paid for, it kicked off a "strip to your knickers" competition among the female members of the cast. This raged all the way through the second act and pretty much obliterated the last traces of any drama.