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The Herald (Glasgow)
24 October 1995

The Master Builder

Haymarket Theatre, London
By Trevor Griffiths

I SUPPOSE it shouldn't be a great surprise that Peter Hall's production of
Ibsen's Master Builder aims for a monumental style. However, the combination
of Ibsen's late period mysticism and Hall's current directorial approach
produces a more than ponderous edifice that never rises above commonplace.

Ibsen pioneered many thematic and stylistic elements that have now been
thoroughly assimilated into the currency of television and theatre. This has
the unfortunate effect that his plays can now seem formulaic and cliched
rather than ground breaking. So it needs a firm and subtle directorial hand
to bring out the enduring power and contemporary elements of the plays.

Unfortunately, Peter Hall's approach allows this discussion-based play to
become static. The production moves with glacial speed, and never achieves a
satisfactory rhythm.

Actors pause portentously in mid utterance, or deliberate between sentences,
in ways that are presumably meant to indicate deep thought. But it often
looks more as though they are having difficulties with their lines. Victoria
Hamilton plays Hilde Wangel effectively as an early wild child and proto
hippie. Gemma Jones has a particularly thankless role as the long-suffering
wife but manages to convey effectively some of the inner turmoil that
escapes Alan Bates who never seemed fully at ease with the difficult role of
the obscurely guilt -ridden master builder.

This production fits beautifully into that increasingly problematic category
of the well-padded West-end revival: star dramatist, star director, and star
actors. The result is as fine an example of what Peter Brook called deadly
theatre as you could hope to avoid.

(Submitted by Tara)