(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