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Brace yourself for a brace of wild Mikhail Bulgakov with Sky Arts

November 1 2012, 17:54

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe star in the Sky Arts adaptation  Photo: Colin Hutton
For those craving colour, drama and a sense of imaginative recklessness that the drizzly bedding in of autumn threatens to wipe from our souls, December will deliver us a double dose of Mikhail Bulgakov. The Russian writer, possibly the finest of the Soviet area (not that Stalin would let him publish much), will be disinterred again both for a startling series on Sky Arts and for a revival of the theatre company Complicite’s stage version of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita at the Barbican.

Sky Arts — which seems to have bottomless pockets — apparently fell on Mad Men actor Jon Hamm’s comment that he was a Bulgakov fan with an ecstasy comparable to that with which Satan’s henchmen dance in the famous devil’s ball in The Master and Margarita. Grabbing a break in Hamm’s schedules, Sky collared none less than Daniel Radcliffe, another actor who says he adores the Russian writer, and made a four-part adaptation of The Country Doctor’s Notebook, Bulgakov’s funny, bloody tales taken from his own experiences working as a provincial doctor in 1920s Russia.

In between fountains of blood and lurid amputations, the series – if it’s even a pale shadow of the book – will give us a jolting reminder of humanity in extremis.

M. Bulgakov @RIA NovostiThen there’s Complicite’s Master and Margarita. Having seen the show in its first incarnation last year, I can tell you it is madly good – with the emphasis on “madly”. After seeing it I wrote a list of the things the play was about. It went: “good; evil (and how fun it is to be bad); Jesus and Pontius Pilate; fiction and truth; how the past creates the present; Stalin; mercy; love and dying for love; disguise; frenzy…”

That’s something for everyone, then, all presented in a witch’s brew of special effects. Which means that even if you dislike the play – and some feel no adaptation can do the novel justice – you’re bound to skip off into the night feeling just a little bit wild. (by Serena Davies)

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