19 February 2016

The Master Builder at the Old Vic

The poster tells you why I went to see The Master Builder; it has the impressive names Fiennes, Ibsen and Hare on it.

The Ibsen name was the more problematic of the three and it had taken me some effort (two viewings and one listening in a short period) to appreciate Ghosts. But The Master Builder was just the sort of play that I should be seeing and The Old Vic was just the sort of place to see it.

It's an expensive theatre, certainly when compared to most of the ones that I go to, so I headed up to the top level, as usual, and claimed my place in the Lilian Baylis Circle Seat A24 for an acceptable £30. The view there was fine, as the photo shows. The leg room was somewhat limited but not really a problem except for when trying to get past people to get to my seat.

The Master Builder of the play is an architect, Halvard, who had risen to become the leading builder in his locality. In rising he had trampled over some people, the son of one of whom, Ragnar,Apple Store now worked for him as a junior. Also working for him was that man's intended fiancee, Kaia. Halvard and Kaia had a thing going on which Halvard's wife, Aline, suspected.

Playing the steadying influence was the Chekovian Doctor Herdal and making everything even more complicated was Hilde, a pretty young woman from a nearby town who had come to visit Halvard in response to a promise he had made to her to build castles in the air when she was a young girl ten years earlier.

The play then wrestled with several psychological ideas including Halvard's relationships with the young women, his legacy and his relationship with God, another Master Builder. Pointedly, Halvard was addressed as The Master Builder throughout.

The tension in the plot came from Halvard's possible futures which included scandal, contented retirement, overthrow by a young contender, success and failure. Elements of the past were uncovered which helped to explain somethings and to darken the mood further. Halvard was, to put it simply, trapped between his joyless wife and the childish dreams of Hilde.

My frustration with Ibsen is that there was clearly a lot going on in all of the relationships and I felt like I was missing a lot of the detail, rather like going to a party where you do not know anybody else there, things were said but meanings were missed. I am sure that I would appreciate The Master Builder more on a second or third viewing but I would have liked to have got more from the first.

The other thing that slightly spoiled it for me was the way that Fiennes portrayed Halvard. He spent a lot of time standing up with his hands on his hips and I simply could not get the image of Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby out of my mind. Even Halvard's waistcoat seemed to be a homage to Rigsby's cardigan.

Those gripes aside, it was still a decent enough play and I thought that Sarah Snook was excellent as the playful Hilde. There was plenty in the characters and their stories to get to grips with and it was an enthralling couple of hours of drama.

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