The Master Builder at the Old Vic
Matthew Warchus’ inaugural season as Artistic Director at the Old Vic is proving to be an enormous success. His latest is a fresh new production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, adapted by David Hare and starring Ralph Fiennes, and it’s absolutely electric.
Clocking in at almost three hours of labyrinthine existential dialogue (including two intervals), The Master Builder is an intense challenge both for the cast and the audience. The Old Vic’s production comes through, ably maintaining the tension with barely a quiver.
Ralph Fiennes’s vulnerable, sociopathic Halvard Solness is simultaneously endearing and repellent; the actor brings a multifaceted power to the stage that is utterly mesmerising. He is complemented by an appropriately wide-eyed Sarah Snook as Hilde Wangel, the breath of fresh air who opens a window for Solness and subsequently accelerates his downfall. Hilde is offset by Aline Solness, Halvard’s shattered wife, who is beautifully portrayed by Linda Emond. Emond brings to life the quiet torment of her character with immense sensitivity, embodying a powerful contrast with Fiennes’ smouldering Master Builder. Indeed, the cast are almost universally excellent, with only a rare few moments of rather less convincing dialogue from Charlie Cameron (as Kaja Fosli).
The set is ingenious: a tilted wooden floor hangs omnipresent overhead, pierced with holes, a looming metaphor for the rapidly disintegrating Builder. It is accompanied by a criss-cross pattern of timber or kindling, which surrounds the more dynamic scenery centre-stage, alluding to the Solness’ decimated family home, and finally collapsing to great effect at the end of the play. Subtly shifting lighting in the periphery reflects the changing mood, and works in tandem with sporadic sound design. Though both are minimal and neither is intrusive per se, they bring little extra, least of all the sound, which is applied to the more climactic moments of the play, but feels superfluous where the drama speaks for itself.
Nonetheless, minor production quibbles do not mar what is ultimately a consummate triumph by Ralph Fiennes and the Old Vic. An absolute must-see.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Master Builder is on at the Old Vic from 23rd January until 19th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.