The Master Builder is a rarely performed piece by the Norwegian dramatist Hernick Ibsen. In this version the playwright David Hare has adpated it for the Old Vic.
We are given the luxury of 2 intervals between the 3 Acts, a God send as sadly the play seems to lag at times and in places one very much feels that trimming here and there may have helped.
Ralp Fiennes plays Halvard Solness, The Master Builder, an ageing architect at the top of his game who has risen from nothing and is about to be taken over or usurped by the "new" and the "young". It's a great look into the effects of a late mid-life crisis, but there is a lot more going on here and by a lot more I mean a lot more! It's a play that seems to have more than just a few themes to say the least. The loss of children, Sexual misconduct with a minor, old age, even myth & fantasy as the young Hilda Wangel enters the story and brings in the idea of fairytale and mythical creatures. She refers to her self as the Princess and talks of trolls (an echo of Ibsens pre-occupation in Peer Gynt). You wonder whether she is a mythical character herself? Or was it that when Solness had kissed her at just 13, was she somehow traumatised by this experience and has she replaced the reality of what has happened with a fantasy? of course Solness doens;t remeber this at all and denies it and he we are faced with one of the other major themes of the play, that of mental illness and memory loss.
Ralph Fiennes is a suitable Solness, but her was much more compelling as Jack Tanner in 'Man and Superman' at the National Theatre last year.
The ending of this play is a tough one to stage as The master Builder, who suffers from vertigo, stubbonly climbs atop a ladder to lay a wreathe on a new building, against his wife's wishes. This final scene where characters are describing what is happenieng form afar is tough to pull off and the drama seems to traverse the realms of realism and fantasy.
This particualr version is certainly interestign but sadly did suffer from moments (in each act) where it felt like things were gettign repetative and not moving things along. I am not saying things shouldn't be given fair time to mellow and be exploredthoroughly,, but these moments have to be earned.