THE MASTER BUILDER
by Henrik Ibsen in a new version by David Edgar.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To
Mon-Sat 7.45 Mat Wed & Sat 2.15pm .
Runs 2hrs 15mins One interval.
TICKETS 01243 781 312.
Review: Carole Woddis 15 September.
Avoids the pitfalls; an outstanding production.
Chichester sports a spry, sinuous new David Edgar version of Henrik Ibsen’s play(London’s Almeida Theatre follows in November with Kenneth McLeish’s older translation). Even given the Almeida’s master-stroke in casting the brilliant, mercurial Stephen Dillane as Halvard Solness, the Master Builder who encounters his match in the shape of young student Hilde Wangel arriving on his doorstep, it would be hard to think of a more impressive or alarming production than Philip Franks’s beautifully-framed, terrifying revival with Naomi Frederick as the dangerously unconventional Hilde and Michael Pennington as the ageing, insecure, youth-threatened architect.
Pennington, like Corin Redgrave, simply gets better and better as he has grows older. Two of his finest appearances were at Chichester two years ago in Ronald Harwood’s Collaborations and Taking Sides, oppositional portraits of commanding musical figures with ambiguous motivations.
Once again, as Halvard Solness, Pennington gives us a rounded, flawed, egocentric character, this time tormented by guilt – phantoms of the past (Edgar adds a hint of child abuse to Solness’s womanising) crossed with Norwegian folklore. Can one bring things into being by will- power and what he terms "creatures of the night"? Did his ambition and wish to make his way somehow contribute to the fire that killed members of his family and set him on the road to success? Has he indeed willed Hilde to his side?
There’s a strange affinity between Hedda Gabler (1890) and The Master Builder, written two years later. In both a female character goads their male love object to self-destructive exultant heights. In both, they are contrasted with female figures of pious goodness, driven by duty.
In so many Ibsen’s plays, you can hear the voice of the independent artist railing against the dead hand of social convention and Norway’s stiflingly strict Lutheran Protestantism. The Master Builder seems particularly autobiographical in this respect.
Frank’s production evades the heavy-handed symbolism to which Ibsen’s plays can also be prone with a luminously spare, simple staging. With Maureen Beattie and Pip Donaghy adding weight, all combine to produce a revival of outstanding quality and unsettling questions.
Knut Brovik: John McEnery.
Kaja Fosli: Emily Wachter.
Ragnar Brovik: Philip Cumbus.
Halvard Solness: Michael Pennington.
Aline Solness: Maureen Beattie.
Doctor Herdal: Pip Donaghy.
Hilde Wangel: Naomi Frederick.
Director: Philip Franks.
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis.
Lighting: Tim Mitchell.
Sound: John Leonard.
Music: Matthew Scott.