Henrik Ibsen's play The Master Builder was first presented in London's West End in 1893 at a time when most theatregoers had a preference for light-hearted entertainment and hence unfortunately Ibsen's play had only limited success - although over the next 55 years the play was revived a number of times at various small London theatres with runs that tended to be fairly short (ie under a month). There was then a break of around 15 years before the first notable 'modern theatre' revival was presented by the National Theatre in repertory in 1964 at the Old Vic Theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company revived the play in 1989, but it was arguably not until 1995 revival at the Haymarket Theatre that Ibsen's play was given a full-blown 'commercial' West End run of any signifiant length.
Halvard Solness is a brilliantly successful architect who has created a reputation and career for himself at the expense of his wife and family. Now growing old, he lives in fear that a new generation of architects will take over and cast him aside. However, it's to the youth and beauty of a young woman that he falls victim. When Hilde Wangel arrives to collect on a decade old debt, she inspires him to build castles in the air with tragic consequences. Ibsen's compelling story of betrayal, pride, sexual passion and the disintegration of love, is as fascinating today as it was in 1892 when it was first written.
The Master Builder - Original West End Production - 1893
Opened 20 February 1893, Closed 4 March 1893 at the Trafalgar Square Theatre (now named Duke of York's Theatre)
Opened Monday 6 March 1893, Closed 18 March 1893 at the Vaudeville Theatre
Presented at the Trafalgar Square Theatre for daily matinee performances with a cast that featured Herbert Waring as 'Halvard Solness', Elizabeth Robins as 'Hilde Wangel' and Louise Moodie as 'Aline Solness' with Marie Linden as 'Kaja Fosli', John Beauchamp as 'Doctor Herdal, Philip Cunningham as 'Ragnar Brovik' and Athol Forde.
This production then transferred for daily evening performances at the Vaudeville Theatre with a cast that featured Herbert Waring as 'Halvard Solness', Elizabeth Robins as Hilde Wangel' and Elsie Chester as 'Aline Solness' with Marie Linden as 'Kaja Fosli', Charles Allan as 'Doctor Herdal', Philip Cunningham as 'Ragnar Brovik' and Charles Fulton.
The Master Builder - National Theatre Revival 1964 / 1965
Opened 9 June 1964, Closed 29 July 1964 (in repertory) at the Old Vic Theatre
Opened 17 November 1964, Closed 9 July 1965 (in repertory) at the Old Vic Theatre
The cast for the first season featured Michael Redgrave as 'Halvard Solness', Maggie Smith as 'Hilde Wangel', Celia Johnson as 'Aline Solness' and Derek Jacobi as 'Ragnar Brovik'. Directed by Peter Wood with designs by Rudolf Heinrich.
The production then returned for a second season with a cast that featured Laurence Olivier as 'Halvard Solness' with Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith alternating as 'Hilde Wangel' and Celia Johnson as 'Aline Solness'.
The Master Builder - Royal Shakespeare Company Revival 1989
Previewed 21 September 1989, Opened 26 September 1989, Closed 2 November 1989 at the Barbican Theatre
The cast featured John Wood as 'Halvard Solness', Joanne Pearce as 'Hilde Wangel' and Marjorie Yates as 'Aline Solness' with Geraldine Alexander as 'Kaja Fosli', Duncan Bell as 'Ragnar Brovik', John Bott as 'Doctor Herdal' and Alfred Burke as 'Knut Brovik'. Directed by Adrian Noble with designs by Richard Hudson, lighting by Chris Parry and music by Howard Blake.
The Master Builder - Alan Bates 1995
Previewed 11 October 1995, Opened 13 October 1995, Closed 6 January 1996 at the Haymarket Theatre
The cast featured Alan Bates as 'Halvard Solness', Gemma Craven as 'Aline Solness', Victoria Hamilton as 'Hilde Wangel' and John Normington as 'Doctor Herdal' with Lewis Jones as 'Knut Brovik', Clare Swinburne as 'Kaja Fosli' and Richard Willis. Directed by Peter Hall with designs by Timothy O'Brien, lighting by Nick Richings and sound by Matt McKenzie. Translated by Peter Hall and Inga-Stina Ewbank.
The Master Builder - Patrick Stewart 2003
Previewed 12 August 2003, Opened 18 June 2003, Closed 17 August 2003 at the Noel Coward Theatre in London
The cast for The Master Builder in London stars Patrick Stewart as 'Halvard Solness', Sue Johnston as 'Mrs Solness' and Lisa Dillon as 'Hilde Wangel' along with Edward de Souza, Jonathan Hackett, Katherine Manners and Andrew Scarborough. Written by Henrik Ibsen and translated by John Logan. Directed by Anthony Page with set designs by Hildegard Bechtler, costume designs by Deirdre Clancy, lighting by Howard Harrison and sound by John Leonard.
"The Master Builder is a big play. The problem is to combine its symbolic depths with its naturalistic surface, and Anthony Page's production at the Albery Theatre succeeds pretty well. This is above all thanks to Patrick Stewart's Halvard Solness... If he acts as though he had a stronger personality than everyone around him, it is because he does. But you feel that if it weren't for Hilde Wangel's challenge he would ultimately be left facing nothing but emptiness. Hilde herself (Lisa Dillon) is less effective. The charm is there but not, or so I found, the deadly touch: she is too wholesome, insufficiently insinuating. And with Sue Johnston giving an exceptionally strong performance as glum, duty-driven Mrs Solness, the balance of the play is sometimes in danger of being lost - though not for long." The Sunday Telegraph
"Patrick Stewart plays Solness, whose success as an architect sparked from building houses on the site of a fire which reduced his wife's beloved family home and possessions to ashes, and contributed to the tragic death of his twin boys... Stewart's Solness is a dried-up, cold, heartless control freak whose overwhelming sense of guilt and fear of failure make him particularly vulnerable to flattery. Especially when it comes from young women. It's an intense but uncharismatic performance and Stewart entirely misses the sense of sexual desire that Solness must surely feel when the entrancing blonde nymphette, Hilda Wangel, bursts into his life and breathily gushes about how 'terribly thrilling' he is and how 'terribly thrilling' it would be if he built her a castle where she can be his princess... But Stewart's Solness remains flaccid and the final, mistimed, anticlimactic moments of Anthony Page's production fall very flat indeed." The Mail on Sunday
"Anthony Page's thrillingly claustrophobic production is, among other things, a reminder of what we've been missing. First of all, we've been missing Patrick Stewart, an actor of charismatic presence and ferocious concentration, with a gift for bulldozing his way to the secret core of a role... Another thing we've been missing is Sue Johnston, who plays Solness's wife, Aline. A regal woman and a majestic, cunning actress, Johnston should long have been on the A list of directors and producers... The instrument of Solness's destruction is Hilda Wangel, 23, and the moment she enters, you know that there will be no reprieve. Lisa Dillon brings to terrifying life the need of the young for a father figure they can impress, take prisoner and destroy... This is an extraordinary, mature and confident performance for an actress of the same age as Hilda." The Sunday Times
The Master Builder in London at the Noel Coward Theatre previewed from 12 August 2003, opened on 18 June 2003 and closed on 17 August 2003
The Master Builder - Ralph Fiennes 2016
Previewed 23 January 2016, Opened 3 February 2016, Closed 19 March 2016 at the Old Vic Theatre in London
The cast features Ralph Fiennes in the title role as 'Halvard Solness' with Linda Emond as 'Aline Solness', James Dreyfus as 'Dr Herdal', Sarah Snook as 'Hilde Wangel', Martin Hutson as 'Ragnar Brovik', James Laurenson as 'Knut Brovik', and Charlie Cameron as 'Kaja Fosli' along with Owen Findlay, John McAndrew, Eleanor Montgomery, Eleanor Sutton and Peter Yapp. Directed by Matthew Warchus with designs by Rob Howell, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, music by Gary Yershon and sound by Simon Baker. Translated by David Hare.
When this production opened here at the Old Vic Theatre in February 2016, Jane Shilling in The Daily Telegraph praised both "Rob Howell's extraordinary designs," and "Matthew Warchus's beautifully controlled and intelligent production is all shifting nuance and finely calibrated detail," that makes "the final, extraordinary moment seems both utterly shocking and the inevitable conclusion of all that has gone before." Michael Billington in The Guardian said that "you come out of most classic theatre these days discussing the direction and design. The great thing about this show, however, is that you emerge celebrating Ibsenís play, David Hareís adaptation and Ralph Fiennesís magnetic central performance... the joy of the evening lies in watching Fiennes at the height of his powers and relishing a play that offers one of the most searing self-portraits in drama." Dominic Maxwell in The Times commented that in "Matthew Warchus's fascinating, fabulously acted revival reminds us, there is nothing safe about this wonderfully wonky play... Yes, the production is more cerebral than sexual. And with two 20-minute intervals, some of the energy is allowed to evaporate by the time we get to act three... Safe bet? Hardly. It's strange stuff, but invigorating stuff." Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times wrote that "Ralph Fiennes, in his excellent, nuanced performance at the heart of Matthew Warchus's new staging... David Hare's spring-heeled, often colloquial new translation and Warchus's detailed, astute direction wring both the humour and distress out of Solness's behaviour, while foregrounding the play's psychological acuity and the way its difficult mix of realism, myth and sexual symbolism presses towards expressionism... but it is carried through by a fine cast and Fiennes's towering central performance." Paul Taylor in The Independent described how Matthew Warchus's "revival of Ibsen's The Master Builder gives Ralph Fiennes the opportunity to surpass himself in the central role and it elicits from David Hare an adaptation that, like his revelatory versions of the early plays of Chekhov, has an incisive clarity and wit in its keen, empathetic understanding of where the piece is coming from... Fiennes delivers a terrifically compelling study of a man going out of his mind with fear and ineffectual remorse." Neil Norman in The Daily Express praised how "Ralph Fiennes is terrific as Solness... David Hare's respectful new translation sounds authentic and, although two intervals extend matters unnecessarily, Fiennes' delivery is ample compensation." Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail was impressed by "the Sarah Snook / Ralph Fiennes chemistry, which flames like fired brandy, is not the only thing of high merit in this grandly staged production. Sir David Hareís translation spares us some of the customary airlessness of 19th century Norway... I would say that this Matthew Warchus production, with its pace and sexiness, makes the cryptic nature of Ibsenís human relationships half-bearable." Henry Hitchings in The London Evening Standard said that "Ralph Fiennes is riveting as the title character in Henrik Ibsenís dense and strange play. .. and Fiennesís performance is a finely measured mixture of wit, vigour, prickliness and anxiety... The result is a production that edges towards the three-hour mark but speaks hauntingly about the dark heart of ambition and the madness of desire."
Matthew Warchus is the new Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theatre and this production re-unites him with Ralph Fiennes who he directed in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage at Gielgud Theatre in 2008. Ralph Fiennes' other West End credits include Trevor Nunn's production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest in 2011 and Andrian Noble's revival of Henrik Ibsen's Brand in 2003, both at the Haymarket Theatre.
"Ralph Fiennes and a new adaptation by David Hare are the twin tugs towards seeing this production. Fiennes provides the floorboards with a performance that never squeaks or creaks, despite the play reaching for a higher ground that teeters towards daftness. Hare cleans and sands the antique timbers of the play, preventing them from warping under our occasional scepticism. The director Matthew Warchus may not line up every nail in his production as precisely as he could, but his edifice is solid, even if you sometimes feel it straining to create a sense of the phantasmagoric "castles in the air" its main characters aspire to. And if Rob Howell's design, all dark wood furniture, missing planks and a clutter of falling beams, is heavier-handed than it needs to be, it holds a final surprise." The Sunday Times
"David Hare's adaptation is as overloaded and overstated as the original with phallic symbols and talk of trolls, a bizarre mix of the sensual and the spiritual. But Matthew Warchus's revival brings out the richness, as well as the strangeness, of Ibsen's late and challenging play, which draws on the playwright's own wild infatuation in his 60s with a much younger woman. Two intervals unnecessarily clog the play's blood flow, and there is not, alas, a steeple in sight. Never mind, Ralph Fiennes delivers an appropriately towering performance." The Mail on Sunday
"Ralph Fiennes gives one of his finest stage performance as Halvard Solness, the titular character of Ibsen's The Master Builder. Halvard, a self-made man, is estranged from his wife, resented by his apprentice and treated by his female bookkeeper with the blind adulation that, while meat and drink to a film star like Fiennes, is less common for modern architects... Fiennes is splendid, his dead gaze lightening and stiff limbs softening the moment he meets Hilde... Matthew Warchus's deeply felt production makes full use of Rob Howell's stunning set. My one reservation concerns David Hare's adaptation which, while laudably fresh, lacks any sense of period, re-envisaging the central relationship as that between the young teacher and middle-aged restaurateur in his own play, Skylight." The Sunday Express
"Ralph Fiennes' towering performance as 'a man slipping away from himself' will leave you clinging to your seat... The dialogue is whip-crack sharp and Fiennes delivers comedy asides like the late, great Leonard Rossiter and continually sweeps his forehead as despair grows. Everything changes as the 24-year-old free-spirited Hilde Wagel sweeps in through his door... As Hilde urges him to ignore crippling vertigo and erect a 'castle in the air', his wife's concerns over his mental state continue to grow. The finest hire-wire psychological play at The Old Vic Theatre in years." The Sunday Mirror
"With references to trolls and strange, quasi-mythic overtones, Ibsen's late, heavily symbolist drama about Halvard Solness, a master builder deep in personal crisis, is usually considered a bit weird. Thanks in no small part to a towering performance by Ralph Fiennes, it comes across in Matthew Warchus's fine production as a startlingly coherent study of a soul ransacked by guilt and grief. Pacing his study like an irascible, tormented bear, Fiennes' builder is trapped in an arid marriage and haunted in every molecule of his being by the fire that inadvertently led to the death of his baby sons. Along comes Hilde, a radiant twentysomething who reminds Solness of a promise he made a decade ago to build her a kingdom and who represents for Solness the life, youth and promise he has lost. The relationship between Solness and Hilde is usually steeped in sexual desire; here it intriguingly often feels more paternal, as though Hilde represents for Solness a lost daughter as well as an eroticised dream life. Fiennes makes tremendous sense of Solness as a proud, arrogant man whose callous exterior barely conceals an inner, roiling turbulence and whose solipsistic ravings about the workings of the cosmos are symptoms of a mind disordered by tragedy. Hotly-tipped Australian actress Sarah Snook is a bit hearty and head girl-like, but does suggest Hilde idealises Solness as a sort of sexualised father figure. Warchus's production beautifully marshals Ibsen's mystic flourishes into an evening of scorching psychological realism." The London Metro
The Master Builder in London at the Old Vic Theatre previewed from 23 January 2016, opened on 3 February 2016 and closed on 19 March 2016.