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(The Fall of) The Master Builder review

A contemporary retelling of Ibsen’s classic tragedy.

(The Fall of) The Master Builder, at West Yorkshire Playhouse from 30th September. Image: WYPlayhouse.

(The Fall of) The Master Builder, a contemporary reimagining of Ibsen’s 1893 tragedy, arrives at West Yorkshire Playhouse this season with Reece Dinsdale in the title role.

In present day Northern England, architect Halvard Solness receives a prestigious  Master Builder award for the design of a shopping centre. With the complex to be officially opened in a few day’s time, Solness is in high spirits until a young woman arrives to reveal a shocking secret from his past. It is a secret which threatens to bring down everything he has built…

Emma Naomi, Reece Dinsdale, Robert Pickavance, Katherine Rose Morley. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

Zinnie Harris’ vibrant adaptation is a superbly constructed reworking of Ibsen’s original drama, this time offering a fully fleshed out company of supporting characters. Part satire, part tragedy, the play is very much a story of two halves; divided into acts with distinctly different styles.

The first, which covers the aftermath of a boozy party and the arrival of a figure from Solness’ past, is often darkly comical and deserving of more laughs than its audience affords. At its earliest juncture, the play has something of a male chauvinist Seventies’ TV-drama feel; dominated by boozy, self-congratulating businessmen. As a study of male grotesques, it’s compelling theatre with sparkling dialogue and is something of a diversionary tactic from the darker elements at play.

Act II is an altogether different beast; the morning after the night before and a sobering succession of revelations which make for uneasy listening. Coupled with subtle sound design and judicious lighting, (The Fall of) The Master Builder gradually moves from the everyday office to an abhorrent nightmare land; a gradual decay which is superbly realised through innovative direction and inspired design.

James Brining’s direction begins naturalistically before evolving into an abstract and disconcerting performance space in later scenes. A lineup of first-person monologues, performed downstage into microphones as if providing testimony in court, is particularly effective and a purposefully jarring shift from the expected. Alex Lowde’s ever-shrinking set design, which gradually edges towards its audience, is also a brilliant concept and a very visual representation of the warped world which is closing in and collapsing around the master architect.

Slick, cool and sharp production design. Photography by Manuel Harlan.

Solness is played by Reece Dinsdale in a fascinatingly layered performance, presenting a character who seemingly speaks with complete conviction, or perhaps believes his own fabrications. Either way, it’s near impossible to get a true grasp on Solness until the latter part of the play when the truth is finally revealed. Dinsdale’s ability to mix a charming geniality with explosive anger further muddies the water, presenting a truly beguiling, almost impenetrable mystery of a man. Dinsdale’s superlative, commanding performance will have audiences guessing what the truth may be up to the final moments.

(The Fall of) The Master Builder is a daring, compelling and unfettered performance which will undoubtedly leave audiences shocked at its brutal conclusion. Disturbing, intense and unwaveringly relevant, this play examines the abuse of power and the wake of devastation it leaves behind. A play which reaches the darkest depths, it’s a deeply troubling and psychologically chilling theatrical experience.

Cast: Susan Cookson, Reece Dinsdale, David Hounslow, Katherine Rose Morley, Emma Naomi, Michael Peavoy, Robert Pickavance. Director: James Brining Writer: Zinnie Harris Theatre: West Yorkshire Playhouse Duration: 130 minutes Dates: Saturday 30th September to Saturday 21st October 2017.

To read an interview with Director James Brining about (The Fall of) The Master Builder, click here.

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