Skipping excitedly down the steps to The Barbican on the mild spring night, we knew from that moment this night was to be a special one. One of the leaders of Postdramatic Theatre, the subject of study for so many contemporary art degrees, was playing in London for all to see. And, my, how special it was!
Famous for their use of live video recording, strong and unrelenting emphasis on ‘the body’ and their rule of ‘everything changes’, the legend definitely lived up to the reality.
Anyone without prior knowledge of this ‘Don’ of contemporary theatre would have naturally assumed that a 3 and a quarter hour performance (with only one 15 minute interval) comprising of puppetry, live and recorded interactive video feeds, 20+ performers and based on a Russian, Soviet drug addict’s most established novel, would be a little hard to follow…. Surprisingly not!
I could try and give you a detailed outline of the performance, but it was so complex and compelling, you’d need to see it to believe it.
With every element meticulously planned and quite obviously devised with the audience in mind, everything flowed as seamlessly as a metaphysical waterfall. The internal logic was sound – every pause, every step, felt absolutely necessary to the retelling of this wondrously poignant love story.
Even sitting high up on the balcony, where the performers should have looked like ants at a picnic, I felt so utterly included in the action that even after the 3 and a quarter hours (yes, I am dwelling on this factor) was up, I wanted more. No matter how sore my posterior – which has to be a good sign.
Usually, a performance comprising of so many different theatrical elements can seem confusing and tedious. However, by subverting the use of these devices, such as puppetry and live feed, so honestly and coherently on stage, Complicité’s performance was compelling rather than confusing and tremendous rather than tedious!
Of course, as with any performance, there were the parts here and there I thought were unecessary or over-indulgent, but such is the nature of contemporary theatre. For me, the second act focussed too heavily on the love story between The Master and Margarita and not enough on Pontious Pilot, the Mental Institution or the Devil’s evil bidding (of which I found the most interesting, overall). But, let’s be honest, I’m just not much of a sucker for a good, old fashioned ‘Romeo and Juliette’-esque invasion of the senses.
Complicité’s highly energised and attentive retelling of this satirical play on religion, society and love honestly reflected the original novel’s contemporary and very forward approach of it’s time to what could have been a classical, standard love story. Choosing to start the performance with a Brechtian deconstruction of the key signs, signals and images of the story designed to propel the audience into this very dark and troubled world with ease, so far removed from our own and yet so closely commenting on the complex trials and tribulations of the world in which we do live. This performance certainly is something to behold – it will make you laugh out loud, it will make you gasp in wonder and if it doesn’t make you shed at least one tiny tear, just once, I’ll be very surprised. It’s like watching The Grimm Brothers on LSD…
This is an absolute must-see for anyone who has ever loved, lost or pondered the mere existence of man.
Performed at The Barbican.