Almeida Theatre opened  its curtains for Modern drama’s father Henrik Johan  Ibsen’s  masterpiece “The Master Builder” last Friday  starring Gemma  Arterton and  Stephen Dillane. The play will be shown until 8 January 2011.

Harward  Solness (Stephen Dillane) is a self made “ Master Builder” with no qualification thus refuses to be called architect .He  used to build church towers and steeples but  now only  builds homes for ordinary people in a small town of Norway.

He lives in a  mansion , that is part private house and part office ,with his wife Mrs Solness (Anastasia Hille),the old architect Knut Brovik(Patric Godfrey) whose business he stole, Brovik’s  designer son Ragnar(John Light)  who is waiting  for Solness’ approval to set up his own business and Ragnar’s fiancée Kaja Fosli (Emma Hamilton) who loves Solness and works as a bookkeeper but actually is being used by him just not to let Ragnar be his own boss.

Gemma Arterton and Stephen Dillane,in "The Master Builder" 's rehearsal.

The play begins when terminally ill Brovik asks Solness to give a chance to his son Ragnar to show what he can do and gets refused sharply. Melancholic Mrs Solness who does everything as a duty realises Mr Solness’ explicit flirt with Kaja .A family friend Dr Herdal(Jack Sheperd) appears on the stage after being called by Mrs Solness, to question Solness’ affair  that built on his insecurity and fears of ‘rising generation’. Herdal also  finds out how guilty Solness feels toward  his wife due to her  burnt down family house which brought him  success and made him ‘The Master Builder’.

However when young  woman Hilde Wangel (Gemma Arterton)  from a country village where Solness visited  ten years ago to repair its church tower, knocks the door to get the kingdom of her own  from The Master Builder ,he doesn’t know she is the rising generation as she  excites him and takes his misery away and prepares his death gradually.

Hilde tells Solness about the day they met ; how excited she was when she saw him climbing the scaffolding and hanging garland on the weathervane when he finished the tower and the party they had afterwards and how he kissed her and told her that she was his princess and he ‘d build her a kingdom in ten years time. It is 19 September, exactly ten years later Hilde is standing there and asking Solness to give her kingdom of her own that she calls “Orangia”.However The Master Builder hardly remembers any of these which makes audiences question who really Hilde is.Has she really met Solness?Why couldn’t she forget all those things even after ten years?Is she real?

Hilde keeps questioning and  exposing  Master Builder’s dark sides, strength and weaknesses from the moment she appears on the stage and excites  the audiences whether she is real or not. It is an unbearably thrilling psychoanalysis on the grey and black colour stage which tells us that Solness’ success has a very dark psychological origins that is known only by him and kills him slowly every day. However Hilde remains mysterious in our minds.

It is hard not to enjoy incredibly well performed play directed by internationaly celebrated Travis Preston and get into The Master Builder’s dark  mind and feel Hilde’s thrilling heart when  Gemma Arterton and Stephen Dillane  shine  on the stage that  economically and smartly designed by Vicki Mortimer.

Since Ibsen was a great poet as well as a playwright and director, it is easy to see symbolism in his play which  caused interesting criticisms after early performace of the play which had  upset him . Trolls and birds, Hilde’s white shawl  are well recognised metaphors  that Ibsen used in the Master Builder. The play is translated into English by Kenneth McLeish and has no barrier to understanding  as Ibsen didn’t want it to.

The Master Builder is known as Ibsen’s self portrait,artistic confession that he wrote in the name of self-scrutiny and self awareness late in his life.

The play’s first public performance was a reading at The Theatre Royal in the Haymarket in London-in Norwegian on 7 December 1892 and its first professional staging was on 19 January 1893 at Lessing-Theatre in Berlin.


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