The Master Builder - Theatre Review

Gemma Arterton brings the magic of fairytale to a captivating production of Ibsen’s THE MASTER BUILDER at the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, N1

THE BARE brick walls of the Almeida are heavy with intrigue as a young woman enters a middle-aged architect’s home ten years after he kissed her as a child of no more than 12 or 13-years-old.

Ibsen’s play unleashes the now fully grown Miss Wangel on the mid-life crisis hit master builder, Halvard Solness, played by Stephen Dillane as a superbly complex man - manipulative, alluring to younger woman, but racked by the onslaught of age and threatened at work by the rising generation.

Amid the turmoil Miss Wangel, the stunning Gemma Arterton, arrives in baggy suit-trousers, oversize sandels, tweed cape and a man’s shirt, like a force of nature knocking on the door.

The language of fairytale mixes forebodingly with a stark Scandinavian set of just a chair, lectern, floor hatch, and staircase, as the youthful shadow-land traveller entices the master builder to steal her away like a troll in a fairytale and join her brave new world.

She has fantasies of him building the highest tower in the world, she has come for her kingdom no less, and Arterton is so full of pent up awe you suspect she may burst at any minute.

Yet she doesn’t and in a masterful performance the intensity is kept simmering just beneath the surface. Unbearably thrilling!

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Angular direction from Travis Preston sees Arterton and Dillane move like pegs enclosed at either end of an invisible and taught elastic band, pulling against each other. As she rotates from the waist forward he is snared into her woven mesh.

The suspense of the storytelling is intense and the pitter patter of dialogue jarring, but at the heart of this production is a battle of free will and determinism. Is the master builder driven by the madness of will or the will of madness?

Will it on either way as it makes for captivating theatre which brings Arterton and Dillane’s considerable acting talent to the fore.

* The Master Builder is at the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, N1, until Saturday, January 8.

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