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(the fall of) The Master Builder West York­shire Play­house, Leeds; un­til 21 Oct

Zin­nie Har­ris has pre­vi­ously adapted clas­sic texts to great ac­claim. Here she turns to Hen­rik Ib­sen’s mul­ti­lay­ered 1892 play The Master Builder. In a pro­gramme note, di­rec­tor James Brin­ing de­scribes the re­sult as “more a re­sponse to than a ver­sion of Ib­sen’s play”. It comes across as the dra­matic equiv­a­lent of a DIY re­build: half-de­mol­ished old struc­ture patched up with ill-fit­ted mod­ern fea­tures.

Sol­ness has just won the ac­co­lade “Master Builder 2017”; his new shop­ping cen­tre (with tower) will be opened in a cou­ple of days by the Prince of Wales. From his first drunken en­trance into his pale and fea­ture­less of­fice, it is clear that he is a dreary, self-cen­tred bully and that his fame is built on sand. The char­ac­ters who sur­round him – his dis­af­fected staff, his ne­glected wife, his drug-tak­ing doc­tor friend – are thinly drawn ci­phers. Their func­tion is to set off Sol­ness (finely por­trayed by Reece Dins­dale). So far, so “ev­ery­day tale of of­fice folk”, un­til…

Any­one who knows the orig­i­nal would prob­a­bly ex­pect a con­tem­po­rary ver­sion to am­plify Ib­sen’s chill­ing sug­ges­tion of child abuse, in­tro­duced with the un­ex­pected ar­rival of 21-year-old, Hilde (a pert Katherine Rose Mor­ley). In­stead, it is at first down­played. This Hilde was 15 (not “12, or 13, maybe”) when Sol­ness planted the kisses whose ef­fects he is about to dis­cover. Har­ris’s ex­tended end­ing in­tro­duces a soap opera-style black­mail plot by Sol­ness’s am­bi­tious sub­or­di­nate. The ac­tion spills out of the box set: stage­hands are in full view;vie front-of-stage char­ac­ters use mics to ad­dress the au­di­ence (think sub-Woos sub-Wooster Group). Ac­cu­sa­tions of abuse multiply,mu read by the ac­tors from files. Ex­tend­edE be­yond dra­matic ne­ces­sity, these come across as a means­mea to in­cite an emo­tional re­ac­tion in the au­di­ence not earned by ei­ther writ­ing or pro­duc­tion. While this add-on ex­ten­sion feels dis­turbingly ex­ploita­tive, it al­soal hints at an­other, bet­ter pla play that might have been if th this project had been new built.

A fa­cade wait­ing to crum­ble: Reece Dins­dale in (the fall of) The Master Builder. ClareC Bren­nan

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