British playwright Zinnie Harris’ reimagining of Ibsen’s tense classic, (the fall of) The Master Builder comes to The Courtyard Theatre where LEO OWEN caught the show

Littered with the mess of a modern office party, Harris’ play is clearly more inspired by Ibsen’s original than a faithful reworking. The titular “builder” is an architect celebrating being awarded with the prestigious “Master” status. Despite Director James Brining’s off-stage sounds of revelry, tension pervades and relationships are clearly strained, in keeping with Ibsen’s desire to strip back the facades of society.

From the opening, awkward drunken post-party conversations suggest all is not well and secrets are going to be unearthed. “Master Builder” Harvard Solness (Reece Dinsdale) has worked his way up to buy his old friend and mentor’s (Robert Pickavance) company from him, much to the resentment of his son, office trainee Ragnar Brovik (Michael Peavoy). Exchanges between Brovik junior and senior make for uneasy viewing, worsened by the snorting of unspecified drugs and the arrival of a “student” (Katherine Rose Morley) come to interview Solness.

Alex Lowde’s design matches the collapse of Solness’ world as we are privy to watching him fall dramatically like a Greek hero from “Architect of the Year” to a man barely able to make eye-contact with those he once held dear to him. Solness’ walls literally close in on him as the stress mounts and office furniture topples as his world comes crashing down, only for a stripped back final set to possibly represent new beginnings and hollow remains.

The final segment of the play uses stage front mics and spot lights to give mini internal monologues a very raw quality like personal confessionals, brutally highlighting the thin line between an honest mistake and a monstrous act. Cast intensify performances with speedy deliveries and by standing immediately in front of the audience with direct eye-contact throughout. Haunting, torturous and chilling: testimonials, strobe lighting and background music highlight the realisation you can be abused without ever truly processing this fact.

Harris’ reimagining is uncompromising and ominously captivating, making Ibsen’s story contemporarily relevant to tackle issues of grief, morality, family tensions, mental health, desire, infidelity, domestic abuse, ambition and jealousy. BSL signed too, the play is bound to strike a chord with young and old viewers alike. The Doctor Foster of its day, (the fall of) The Master Builder won’t disappoint and boasts a unanimously strong cast, delivering nail-biting impassioned performances.

(the fall of) The Master Builder is at The West Yorkshire Playhouse October 5-21, 2017: