When Simon McBurney fled Thatcherite Britain in the 1980s he found a spiritual home in Paris. Back in France as guest artist at the Avignon festival, the actor-director opened the event with a bang. McBurney's version of Mikhail Bulgakov's Soviet satire "The Master and Margarita" opened the three-week extravaganza on Saturday night, before 2,000 people in the court of honour of the southeastern city's historic Papal Palace. The three-hour play ran to critical acclaim in London earlier this year, but The Guardian's reviewer also dubbed it a form of "visual assault" that left him "longing to lie down in a dark room with a cold towel on my head." In Avignon it went down a treat, with Marianne magazine describing it as a "total success", Telerama as "wildy ambitious", and Evene.fr as "one of the finest pages in the festival's history". Banned in the Soviet Union until 1966, Bulgakov's complex novel features a devil in disguise visiting modern-day Moscow, interwoven with the love story between Margarita and the Master, who has been committed to an insane asylum. McBurney's production sweeps from tragic to burlesque, following the multi-layered narrative that shifts back and forth in time from Soviet times to the modern day, to the days of Jesus Christ. At times it pulls in sophisticated video imagery, beamed onto the wall of the Papal Palace, at others it uses the simplest of theatrical devices, like a stick used to represent a window pulled open. For McBurney, it is partly a morality tale that asks where man is headed. "We have more knowledge than ever before, but what are we doing with it?" he told AFP in a French-language interview. "Part of the world is going to live in senseless comfort and the rest in grinding poverty. It's a terrible thing." The play's complex, interlocking narratives and its sideplot on insanity also tap squarely into McBurney's fascination with the workings of the mind, the relation between perception and reality. "It's like Russian dolls, you can keep on opening it up to infinity," he said of the novel. On Monday night McBurney was to take to the Avignon stage, together with the actress Juliette Binoche and writer John Berger, for a joint reading of a text written by Berger. "From A to X" is about the one-way correspondence between a woman and the man she loves, jailed under a totalitarian regime, and the notes he scrawls diary-like on the back of her letters. The affable 54-year-old was in Avignon surrounded by friends and family, including his wife and two children, and his brother who is a guest composer at the event. "We are a bit like a band of gypsies," mused the director. "I don't really put a boundary between my work and my life." Born and raised in Cambridge, McBurney says he felt out-of-place in Margaret Thatcher's 1980s Britain and what he saw as its "arrogant", colonial world view. "It was a culture I didn't feel comfortable with," he said. He found his spiritual home across the Channel, at the Paris school founded by Jacques Lecoq, the French actor, mime and pioneer of physical theatre, who taught there until his death in 1999. After founding his own troupe -- under the French name "Complicite" -- McBurney returned to Britain in the 1990s, turning his hand to Shakespeare and offbeat adaptations like the works of Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. In between plays, McBurney has kept his acting career ticking over, most recently starring as a cold-blooded official pulling the strings in the big screen adaptation of John Le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". "I love acting for cinema. It's wonderful, it's like a holiday!" he joked. British works loom large among the 36 plays to be performed in Avignon until July 28. They include two environmentally-themed works by the award-winning British playwright Katie Mitchell: "Ten Billion", created with scientist Stephen Emmott, and a piece inspired by "The Rings of Saturn" by the German poet W.G. Sebald.