THEATRE REVIEW: The Master Builder

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE: Old Vic

WHEN: 29/1, runs to 19/3

Paranoid and egotistical master builder Halvard Solness (Ralph Fiennes) is going through a midlife crisis: he fears the young are seeking to do him out of a job yet is infatuated by a woman many years his junior.

There’s much to admire in Henrik Ibsen’s play here. The Master Builder was written in 1892 when Norwegian Ibsen was 64, and it was partly inspired by an infatuation with a Viennese girl he met on holiday.  Is this the author’s worst fears should he have allowed this spark to find flame?

Solness is also consumed by the guilt and grief he suffers after the death of his children in infancy and it is something which dominates his marriage. The play changes gear when a beautiful young woman arrives at his door looking for somewhere to stay.

We saw Fiennes at the National last year in the acclaimed Man and Superman although it was his amazing feat of memory which impressed us rather than the production’s whole. Here Fiennes is once again at the very heart of the piece although for us it failed to catch fire in the way that we would expect Solness’ awakening to be.

Masterminded by the Old Vic’s new artistic director Matthew Warchus this is slightly more assured than his debut Future Conditional (the final scene shift is breathtaking and beautiful for example) but nowhere near as satisfying as The Lorax which it replaces.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Old Vic copyright Manuel Harlan. Tickets here.
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham

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