Zinnie Harris’ adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder is magnificently satisfied through the dynamic and vibrant combination of cast and set.
The drama considers the visible internal struggle of Halvard Soleness who is compelled by the darkness of human nature to trade part of himself for riches and fame. We meet Soleness on the peak of his latest high, the achievement of ‘The Master Builder’ award, and then we travel to depths of despair as the secrets of his past comes back to haunt him.
Introspective moments are portrayed skilfully by the actor playing Soleness, Reece Dinsdale, as his character processes the fact that his work protégée might have progressed beyond his own capabilities, leading him to worry about the security of his own position. He moves deftly onstage, perfectly capturing his most candid and secret moments. It’s difficult to imagine that Dinsdale is aware of an audience at these times and as a result, we are fully engaged with his internal thoughts and emotions.
Dinsdale’s adeptness does not end there as he effortlessly portrays Halvard Soleness’ anguish, which is furthered by an imaginative stage design. The contemporary stage-box appears to be stable and tangible for the first two acts. However, as we begin the descent into Soleness’ secret and the darkness which it brings, the stage gradually-and quite literally- disintegrates. The characters’ entries and exits become physically barred by the converging stage, which leads to an intense third act.
The remaining cast take up performing with the off-set microphones, leaving Soleness alone again. Although they do not physically appear on centre-stage their accounts are nevertheless compelling. As they report the drama, spotlighted and off-stage, the audience can perceive the penultimate few scenes at a critical distance. Overall, the cast do not disappoint, allowing us to observe the extreme psychological effects the evolving plot has on its characters.
The play culminates with a scintillating court-like enactment of testimonies, climaxing with a tidal wave of emotion, noise, and chaos. This inescapable spine-tingling crescendo is by far the most memorable moment of the play, clearly demonstrating the raw results of Halvard Soleness’ despicable behaviour.
The drama strangely manages to produce an equilibrium between humour and absolute desolation, which engulfs the audience into a bubble, sometimes only designed for the characters themselves.
(Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Playhouse)