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Society's Dangerous Obsession? - Ibsen
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
photo by Manuel Harlan
The joy of never having read an original 'classic' is knowing that you will arrive at the theatre like an excited new-born, unaware of what is about to unfold but hoping it will be something good.

So, when a young man looked up at the interval, turned to his colleague and said, 'I told you there was going to be a big shit moment', I knew my hopes had been realised and that I was in the middle of a gripping drama that had me and him caught!

However, Zinnie Harris' new take on Henrik Ibsen's original (the fall of) the Master Builder, left me feeling not only uncomfortable but wondering when British society's witch hunt of men will eventually subside! Tar, brush and all are words that come to mind!

photo by Manuel Harlan
Halvard Solness is the middle-aged master builder of some place unknown - it could quite easily have been Leeds judging from the regional accents - basking in the glory of being named 2017 Master Builder of the Year. As he enjoys a glass of bubbly with friend Doctor Herdal, Solness is visited by Hilde, a young woman of 21, apparently looking for work experience.

But her arrival also brings with it a more sinister revelation, when she advises Solness that they first met some five years earlier when she was just 15. Like a dog with a bone the infatuated Hilde will not let her victim forget that first meeting, his underage dalliance and eventually teases recognition from him.

Is this Solness' only 'relationship' with an under-age woman? Clearly not.
This production has a simmering quality not unlike Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with themes of lies, illicit sexuality and unstated truths and, while I loved it, I have to say that it did leave me with a feeling of unease. "How many men are watching this and are squirming in their seats?" questioned yet another female member of the audience during the interval.

The play brought to mind the TV survey in which a young child was purposely abandoned in a shopping centre to see who would come to his rescue; only women did. Men feared being branded paedophiles if they even went near the little boy. Once again Harris' take on Ibsen comes with another veiled warning to society - beware the dangerous male species!

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It was a strong cast. Reece Dinsdale as Solness, entrepreneur cum child abuser, was so good as the self-congratulatory, ruthless architect, who crumbles before our eyes as his dubious past comes to light, whilst Katherine Rose Morley brought a chill to the theatre as Hilde with her coldly unnerving Fatal Attraction style performance.

Susan Cookson as Aline was the protagonist's brow beaten wife, unaware of her husband's dubious past, whilst David Hounslow as Dr Herdal is content to live a debauched lifestyle until he realises that his own daughter may have been one of Solness' victims.

This was a great play which appears to be very specific in its theme when compared to Ibsen's original. It was uncomfortable because, this time, there was little room for an alternative interpretation, no escape door. The finger is clearly pointed.

Jimmy Savile started an avalanche of suspicion in British society after he died and, one day, many of us will look back and liken this period in time to McCarthy's communist witch hunts, indeed, that very period spawned

Arthur Miller's parody in the shape of his award-winning play, the Crucible.
On the one hand I loved the play, whilst on the other, part of me was thinking, "Oh for God's sake not another man bashing 'they're all the same' play intent on public shaming any species with a loaded gun between his legs!" But as President Trump keeps telling us, 'it is not the gun's fault, it is the person pulling the trigger'.

Great drama but at the same time a theme, I think, that will rapidly become a prisoner of early 21st century social history.

The Fall of the Master Builder
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Until October 21st.

Society's Dangerous Obsession? - Ibsen, 5th October 2017, 23:03 PM