The Master Builder at the Old Vic

Published February 4, 2016

What’s it all about?

What happens when a fresh-faced young woman comes into the life of an arrogant aging architect.

It’s not necessarily as seedy as you might be thinking, though there’s a definite whiff of Operation Yewtree about the relationship, as Ibsen’s classic is far more interested in ideas of youth and age, fairy tale ideals and reality, loss and grief than anything more carnal.

Who’s in it?

Ralph Fiennes brings a surprisingly light touch to the titular architect. Oh, when he’s arrogant and selfish he’s a despicable being, fearful of his time coming to an end, but enlivened by youthful company he finds a joyful energy.

Brilliantly understated Broadway star Linda Emond, with just her deep, sorrowful eyes, finds all the sadness in a stoic wife drenched in unrelenting grief.

But the night’s surprise package, for many, is the tremendous Sarah Snook. The rising Australian star fills the interloper Hilde with both bold, manipulative confidence and wonderful, childish naivety, which is some trick. To stand acting toe to acting toe with Fiennes is some task. Snook doesn’t flinch.

What should I look out for?

Rob Howell’s set. Director Matthew Warchus’ frequent collaborator has created a multi-layered space, backed by a hanging net of driftwood and topped by a perfect oval floorboard ceiling. Perfect, that is, apart from the holes punched in it. Each scene is exquisitely set.

Okay, you can’t look out for an adaptation, but David Hare has brought new life to Ibsen’s classic, finding a great vein of humour in a tale mired in sadness.

Who was in the press night crowd?

If press night crowds are any sign of quality, The Master Builder has the highest seal of approval. Lesley Manville, Harriett Walter, Bill Nighy, Haydn Gwynne, Bertie Carvel and Rob Brydon were all in attendance.

In a nutshell?

Stonking debuts and a surprising delicacy from Fiennes; The Master Builder breathes new life into Ibsen’s tale of grief and purposelessness.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

If you like your classic drama performed in a classical fashion but with a spirit and life that feels as contemporary as Snapchat (that’s still down with the kids, right?), this is your bag. Warchus has drawn out a lightness you don’t readily associate with Fiennes and in Snook a genuinely exciting new stage talent – to London at least – has been unearthed.

The Master Builder plays at The Old Vic until 19 March. You can book tickets through us here.

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