THERE are many reasons to recommend The Master Builder now on at the Old Vic. The acting is superb – not least from Ralph Fiennes who puts in an extraordinary central performance as Halvard Solness, the master builder – but the set is too, particularly right at the end.
Henrik Ibsen’s late play is almost a reflection on his own life with its themes of obsession, infatuation and guilt.
It focuses on Halvard, an architect or rather a “master builder”, unhappily married and still mourning the loss of his children who died in infancy. He appears to have the weight of the world on his hunched shoulders, and has a brooding brusque demeanour.
Despite this he seems to attract the attention of the opposite sex like no one’s business.
He presides over an architecture firm in which the chap he is mentoring, Ragnar Brovik (Martin Hutson), wants to get married and move his career on. Halvard, jealous and fearful of his talent, does everything in his power to thwart his career progression.
Meanwhile, Ragnar's intended, Kaja (a delightful Charlie Cameron) who also works within the practice, is so infatuated with Halvard that is desperately trying to delay the wedding so she can stay working with.
Then one day a young woman, Hilde Wangel (Sarah Snook), appears. She strides into his office with practically nothing but the clothes she is in and demands the kingdom he promised her 10 years previously when she was a 13-year-old girl.
She reminds him they met at a topping out ceremony for the last church he built and on the top of which, despite hideous vertigo, he climbed to put a wreath.
To begin with he can’t remember this promise but she is a persuasive and determined woman and crucially, interesting, engaging and feisty. In short she is a breath of fresh air in his stagnant and unhappy world.
Her persistence pays off and we see a remarkable transformation in Halvard – his shoulders lift, he smiles, he looks energised and it’s clear he has fallen for this woman.
So infatuated with her is he that he takes on the rather rash decision to climb the tower in the town which has inevitable devastating consequences.
It a superb production and with a towering performance by Fiennes it is one not to be missed.
The Master Builder is on at the Old Vic, Waterloo until March 19. Tickets from £12. Visit www.oldvictheatre.com/ or call the box office on 0844 871 7628.