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Mail On Sunday (London)
22 October 1995


By Louise Doughty

There is no fool like an old fool and, in his sixties, at the height of his
fame, Ibsen proved the point by falling in love with a 20 year-old. Around
the same time, he was publicly attacked by a writer half his age for being
'obsolete'. The fear of - and desire for - youth which resonates throughout
The Master Builder seems, then, to be intensely personal and partisan. It is
hard to empathise with the architect Solness unless you share his
pre-occupations - even more so when those same pre-occupations have ruined
the lives of those around him.

The character of Solness only works if he is played as a lovable rogue, a
man who has charmed his way to the top as well as trampled over the less
ambitious folk who have stood in his path. Alan Bates, in Peter Hall's new
production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, has no detectable trace of human
warmth. He portrays the tortured side of Solness' character extremely well
but if you don't like the man on any level it is hard to care how tortured
he is. His long conversations with the luscious young Hilde - played with
sparkling seductiveness by Victoria Hamilton - seem merely self-indulgent.

This problem is exacerbated by the placing of two intervals either side of
the drawing room scene. It makes sense from the point of view of
set-changes, but it corrals the most sluggish movement of the play on its
own little island of mawkishness. The people seated behind me left at the
second interval.

There are compensations - chief among them Hamilton's performance and good
support from Gemma Jones as Solness' wife and Richard Willis as Ragnar, the
young draughtsman whom Solness so fears. One can only applaud Hall's
determination to bring quality classics to the West End, but I doubt that
this version will win any converts.

(Submitted by Tara)