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Sunday Telegraph
22 October 1995, Sunday

The Arts: Shut your eyes and think of the Restoration Theatre
By John Gross

...

Peter Hall's production of The Master Builder, at the Theatre Royal,
Haymarket, is thoughtful, energetic and, for the most part, compelling.
Above all - the first test for any production of the play - it enables us to
suspend out disbelief. Swept along by the action, we remain untroubled by
Ibsen's peculiar compound of symbolism and naturalism, domestic tragedy and
transcendent myth. Master builder Solness is in many respects a small man -
a mean man, even, especially in his treatment of his employees. But in order
for his story to make dramatic sense, we have to accept that he is also a
big man - a Promethean figure who has challenged the gods, a creator who has
been prepared to destroy anything that stands in his path. A master by
nature as well as name, in fact; but a guilt-ridden master, and one whose
hour is passing. Alan Bates plays him as a man divided against himself -
sometimes abstracted, sometimes abrupt. He is more successful at conveying
inner torments than heroic stature, but you never doubt his capacity for
ruthlessness; and if Hilde Wangel's hold over him isn't as overtly sexual as
it is in some productions, you feel the inevitability of his surrender none
the less. It's her youth and her unexpectedness that hypnotise him. Sex is
only part of it. Victoria Hamilton's Hilde confirms the promise that she
showed when she made her debut earlier this year. At the literal level she
can, quite rightly, be exasperating. She bursts on the scene like a New Age
traveller; she waves manically after Solness's fatal fall like a fan whose
team has scored a goal. But she is more than just "impossible". She
persuades you that she really is an angel of death. The third main
performance is equally fine. Solness's wife is often portrayed as a mere
walking corpse, but Gemma Jones beautifully conveys the life that is still
in her, the anger and anguish stirring under her frozen sense of duty. In
doing so, she restores a whole dimension to the play, which can easily be
lost.

The Almeida Theatre is currently presenting Thomas Otway's
Restoration tragedy Venice Preserved. It is an imperfect production of an
imperfect play, but it still makes for an unusually interesting evening. I
hope to return to it next week.

(Submitted by Tara)