"The Master Builder"
Directed by ANTHONY PAGE
A new translation by JOHN LOGAN

Harvard Solness / PATRICK STEWART
(Understudy PAUL STEWART)
Aline Solness / SUE JOHNSTON
Hilda Wangel / LISA DILLON
(Understudy MATTHEW BATES)
(Understudy JOHN HARWOOD)
(Understudy LAURA MCGUIRE)
(Understudy JOHN HARWOOD)

Notice: I wrote this based on my memory of the stage, and translations I have (Japanese and English). So perhaps lines are not exact words in John Logan's new translation.

Act One
A workroom in Solness's house

A successful builder,
Harvard Solness, is employing Knut Brovik, and his son, Ragnar Brovik. Solness had been employed at Brovik's office, but their situation has changed. Old Brovik wants to see his son's independence from Solness because he realized his life wouldn't be long. But Solness refuses it.

Kaja Fosli, a fiancee of Ragnar, is attracted to Solness secretly. Solness pretends to be in love with her for his secret purpose. Solness's wife Aline has been aware of something being between Kaja and her husband, but she doesn't demand to confess it clearly. They are keeping a strange balance.

Herdal, a doctor of Aline, indicates to Solness that her unstable psychological situation arises from the relationship between Solness and Kaja. But Solness says he doesn't love Kaja. He reveals that he just thought if he could make her work at his office, Ragnar would stay too at the first time she visited there. Though he had never said it, she came back on the next evening as if they made a contract. Solness says it's very mysterious that his wish came true without saying even one word, and he can't lose her because Ragnar will leave him if Kaja leaves here. Herdal asks him why he doesn't relieve his wife. Solness says when Aline treats him coldly, somehow he can escape a little from the strain as if he repaid a tiny instalment on huge debt to her. He says that Aline must doubt of his sanity, and asked Herdal to watch him. The doctor denies it. Solness reveals that he feels fear against young people who want to replace him.

Hilda Wangel, a young, shining, and beautiful girl who is on a walking tour, visits Solness's office and asks to stay at his house. She says that she has met Aline and was told to drop in at their house if she came to their town. And she makes Solness remember that he also met her in her hometown when he built a tower on the old church there ten years ago. Somehow, Solness could climb high at the time although he has a fear of heights. He calls Aline, and suggests to her that they use one of their nurseries for Hilda. Aline agrees to it because it's "duty" for her, and go to prepare the room. Hilda says that Solness kissed her and promised to be back again to take her away and give her a kingdom. He doesn't remember that, but he admits that for not making her disappointed. He says that she is the one who he has needed.

Act Two
A sitting room in Solness's house

he next morning, Solness talks with his wife, looking over Ragnar's drawings. Aline takes care of plants. Solness reveals his sense of guilt, and he says everything will turn good for Aline after they move to the new house. Aline doesn't believe his words. They have an argument. Hilda gets a bad impression from Aline because she says to take care of Hilda is only "duty", not from affection. Hilda stayed in a nursery, but they have no children. And he makes a nursery again in the new house that has a high tower. Hilda feels his madness. Solness tells Hilda that the burned house was the place where Aline was born, then she was shocked and she couldn't feed their twin babies with her milk, so the babies were dead. And he continues he noticed a crack in the chimney, but didn't fix it, and actually he wanted the house to be burned. Hilda asks him the crack was the cause of the fire. He says "no". And he says there are chosen people who have the mysterious power to make their dreams come true, and another people who are fated to help the chosen people. Hilda says she is on the side of chosen people. She points out his sense of guilt, and his conscience is too fragile, so he should have more robust one. While talking, she says women who were captured by Vikings must were excited. Solness tries to press her to him, but she escapes from him. He asks her what is she wants from him. She replies, "I want my kingdom!" She spreads Ragnar's drawings, and demands that he write some good comment on it. Solness complies with her as if he is witched. Hilda calls Kaja, and hands her the drawings, and has her going to Brovik for relieving the old man. Solness promises her to climb up the tower of the new house and put up a wreath by himself. Hilda calls the new house a "home", but he calls it a "house", and says it will never become a home.

Act three
A veranda of Solness's house

Hilda comes up to a veranda, and talks with Aline. Hilda expresses sympathy about Aline's loss of her children. But Aline reveals that
she is sad about her loss of nine dolls that she had treasured since her childhood, rather than her loss of children. And she weeps. She has kept the secret from her husband. Solness comes, then Aline goes into the house as if she avoids seeing her husband.
Hilda tells Solness that she wants to leave. She says that since she has been close to Aline, she can't take what belongs to her. Solness is upset and asks her if she was happy in her hometown. She answers that
her house was only a cage. Solness says that he and she will build together "a castle in the air" that she wants. Ragnar comes carrying a big wreath for a ceremony to celebrate a completion of Solness's new house. He tells them that Brovik lost his consciousness with a stroke before seeing the drawing that Solness wrote a comment. It was too late. Solness tells Ragnar to go back to his home. But Ragnar stays. Solness brings the wreath to his new house.
Ragnar tells Hilda that Kaja confessed that she has been attracted by Solness, and he thinks that Solness has held down him to keep her. Hilda says that Solness tried to keep Ragnar. Ragnar doesn't calm down, and he says that Solness is a coward, so he can't climb up the top of the tower. Aline comes back, and be surprised that Solness is going to climb the tower and put up a wreath. She asks Ragnar to call him back, and returns into the house to treat guests who came for celebrating the completing of the new house.

Solness comes back. He tells Hilda that he realized that the Lord stole his happiness so that he concentrates to build churches when he built the tower in Hilda's hometown, then he told "him" that he would be free and would build houses only for human happiness. But to build houses wasn't helpful for human's happiness. He says that from now on, he will build "a castle in the air" that Hilda said it's the loveliest thing in the world.
Hilda wants to see him standing on high again. He promises that he will do that and say to the Lord that he will build only the loveliest thing in the world and come back to Hilda to kiss her.
Solness climbs up a ladder. Hilda, Aline, Herdal and Ragnar watch that. Hilda says that she can hear the same song as the one she heard ten years ago, and see someone who Solness fights against. But no one hears and sees that except her. Solness waves his hat from the top of the tower, and falls down. He dies.
Everyone is shocked, but Hilda says that
he did an impossible thing and she could hear harps in the air. She waves her hand toward the top of the tower where no one is there anymore. And she shouts out "My master builder!"


My impression

Since I had read the script, I could follow the story. But I think I couldn't understand the change of nuance that arose from the new translation. So I write this from my impression that I got from the stage "watching", and the script " reading". But I felt the stage almost played with fidelity to the original script. Although they added some sexy actions, I thought it was orthodox.

My first impression of the script was "Wow, it's so sexy!" There was no plain sexy scene, but there were very complicated minds of characters, and their minds made a tense relationship. I found it arousing. And somehow, men at painful situations look always sexy. I thought that Patrick Stewart had to be fit for the main character.

But actually, I had a strong sympathy with Hilda. The actress who played the roll was so wonderful ! think Solness is a symbol to Hilda. He is the symbol of something glorious, someone came to a boring countryside and built a great tower, and someone could take her away to some wonderful place. She is attracted by the image of him, rather than real Solness.
So she refuses his actual temptation convulsively from sudden fear. Then she can't overlook his dirty conduct that holds Ragnar down, because he must be a glorious man for her. She doesn't cry when Solness dies, and she finds the significance of his death exciting. I can understand her mind that depends on only images, because I was a dreamer too..

When I read the script, I thought that it was nonsense that a young girl keeps loving an old man over ten years from only one kiss. (Of course, maybe it's possible if "the old man" was Patrick Stewart!) It looked a typical fantasy for middle-aged men. But when I watched the live performance, I read another reality. Maybe her hometown was too boring. And perhaps, she had a hard time that she couldn't stand there. Then she recalled the image of Solness as someone who can take her away, I think. She is very active, but she believes that someone is necessary to release herself. It's a limit of her mind. But it is natural for a girl who was living a hundred years ago. She was a very convincing character.

Solness is so attractive because he is feeling guilty. He knows that he is doing wrongs against Ragnar and Knut Brovik. He has enough conscience that can't justify himself. When Hilda asked him why he didn't call himself an architect, he replied he never had the proper training. Brovik and his son were necessary to him for a complicated calculation of architecture. He couldn't lose Ragnar in that point too. He knows how guilty his own self is. And he accepts his guilty situation. He knows even his own slight madness. This kind of character is so attractive. It's very pitiable that he continues to build nurseries that are no use.

His madness is enough to do this painful act to him and his wife again and again, but it isn't enough to be unconscious of his abnormality. Solness took out a pencil from his inner pocket when Hilda demanded that he write a comment on Ragnar's drawing. Mr. Stewart's performance was so impressive to me at that moment. He looked to be witched. It was the moment he obviously stepped in Hilda's imaginary world. Hilda wants a kind of salvation from him. I think he also expects an escape from reality, by playing the salvation for her. He accepts that he escapes with her into the world of fantasy.

The play toured in UK for about two months. About sexy scenes, I seem to remember that Mr. Stewart said that it was a sexy play although they hardly had physical contacts. I think he talked it in a interview about June. In the conservative district, some audience left in the middle of the play. It seems that they felt it immoral. But in the London version, there were some physical contacts. The play seemed to have been improving. I wrote "Solness tries to press her to him", in the story section, but actually, he didn't touch her shoulder or back when I saw the play. He just grabbed her buckle, and pulled strongly. Hilda was so slim. So the action emphasized his manly side that he hadn't showed well until that moment. It was very effective. I was hit by the sudden sexy vitality.

And at the last of Act two, after the talk about vikings, Solness promised to put a wreath up the tower. Then he kissed her just before he left. where?
It was her wrists both. It was incredibly sexy than lip or cheek. After he left, Hilda rubbed her wrist and said, "Terribly exciting." (I confirmed this line from the script. I can't remember it was the same words in the new translation.) This phrase is the same as the word she said about women who captured by vikings. (She said that that had to be exciting. Solness questioned, "capturing women?" She answered, "Being captured.") Somehow, some audience laughed after this line. But I was just being fascinated.

It was a little difficult for me to have a empathy with Aline. She is also out of her mind slightly. (All main characters have mad part.) She showed her complicated mind when she revealed that she regrets her dolls rather than her children. The explosion of her sadness was so impressive. But to me, her impression was thinner than that of other two characters.

Actually, Solness didn't appear on the stage at the last scene. His last appearance was the scene he brought a wreath to the new house. The last scene proceeded by other characters. They described Solness's act with their lines as if they were seeing him beyond the audience. I have read about British play in the book of Shoji Kokami. (a Japanese popular stage director. He studied at British play school several years ago, and wrote his experiences.) He wrote that British play gave too high priority to realism. When I saw the last scene, I thought he had said this. I guess Japanese directors will like to show something that implies Solness in a back of actors who face audience. (I don't think they show even real Solness. It seems too much childish expression.)

Anyway, the scene was progressed with descriptive words like "His head is all smashed in. He fell right into the quarry!" or something. Descriptive words have a possibility of making us laugh when it doesn't work correctly. But in that simple style, I think it was a natural way. The success of the last scene depended on the power of actors. Thanks Lisa, her powerful acting kept the tension until the end. After Solness fell, other characters were shocked and depressed. But she kept looking at the high place Solness had stood. And she shouted, "My master builder!" It was so sad and symbolic ending.

Solness calls the Lord just "he". It seems that the God who demands loyalty is a common image in the Christian world. The play's conclusion seemed to have been the God's punishment, and at the same time, it seemed that it depended on Solness's madness. This kind of double meaning always excites me. The play can be read so deeply. It is for adults. And words were so important there. I regret that I couldn't hear lines.
(26th, 27th July 2003/Albery theater/London)

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