Stage Review: The Master Builder

For one weekend only, EastWest theatre is staging The Master Builder, a psychological drama by one of the most famous of all modern playwrights, Henrik Ibsen. The mysterious play will fill audiences with suspense, and pathos, as Ibsen – father of realist theatre – fillets the human experience and serves it up raw.

EWT deserve hearty commendation for wrangling with this play. All-out-yelling matches and moments of pathetic confession are demanding terrain for the actors, who play twisted, tortured characters.

Through his characters' dialogue Ibsen explicitly reveals the hidden, convoluted motives that underlie important decisions. Solness, the ‘Master Builder’, is an architect with a maniacal desire for greatness, but an inability to accept his success … because of the path he's used to obtain it. While torn between means versus ends, he's juggling a love life gone totally awry. He's reprehensible. Feeble. And most importantly, believable.

Thomas Caron excels as Halvard Solness. Caron was amusing and subtle in EWT's Waiting for Godot, but the challenge of playing Halvard Solness allows him to plumb greater depths of his skill and experience. Caron has 40 years in the biz, and it shows. He's going on tirades one moment and bemoaning his own failures the next.

His wife, Aline Solness, is a rich counterpart, played with stunning power by Amy Brummit. As the disappointed, childless, suspicious wife, her world is filled with bitterness, but she remains queen of her domain, with a vicious tongue.

Amy Brummit vivifies Aline's pain with excruciating candor and control, releasing more emotion in a terse jab than most of us can put into a scream. All in all, a tough play with some interesting plot twists and a satisfying conclusion. We won't spoil it here, but rest assured you will find all the answers by the play's end.

Tip: be sure to take a trip to the facilities before the show. It runs around two hours, no intermission.

RMB 150 (advance), RMB 200 (door). 14-18 October, 8pm. 1F, Building B, Ke Center for the Contemporary Arts, 613 Kaixuan Lu, opposite the West Yan'an Metro Station. Tel: 6131 3080 x 315 / 138 1669 2441. Email: [email protected]