Henrik Ibsen's tragic tale of obsession and guilt takes its place in the Old Vic new season with David Hare’s new adaptation of The Master Builder.
Architect Halvard Solness is at the top of his game. But his obsession with building ‘real homes for real families’ is undercut by the desolation of his own house, with three empty nurseries and an icy marriage. And his professional success is freighted by the fear of the being usurped by the next generation.
Ralph Fiennes is masterful in the title role. First he’s haughty and oppressive, criticising his apprentice and tormenting his wife. Then Hilde, a young girl from his past, (played luminously by Sarah Snook) breezes in, fresh from the mountains and brimming with mystical images of princesses and trolls. The architect’s foundations are smashed. Fiennes slides from control to crisis with agonising tension.
With complex, overlapping themes of duty, desire, fear, freedom and religion, Ibsen’s writing is saturated with significance and depth. Hare’s adaption strikes a thrilling balance between the intense realism of family tragedy and the mystical metaphors of demons, trolls and little devils masterminding the human behaviour. The staging and Matthew Warchus's production keeps the text and actors at the forefront. Two intervals reflect Ibsen's three part structure.
But the result feels academic rather than human. This a play that was inspired by Ibsen’s own obsession with a young girl he met on holiday, and the raw humanity of that sexual obsession is sucked out of the text. The relationship between Hilde and Solness, her memories of being kissed age 13 and her intense influence on him 10 years later, feels curiously abstract. So that final, tragic decline doesn't have the emotional lurch it should. There's much to fascinate, but not as much to really move you.
|What||The Master Builder, The Old Vic review|
The Old Vic
The Cut, London, SE1 8NB | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
23 Jan 16 – 19 Mar 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£12 - £60|
|Website||Click here to book via The Old Vic|