Ralph Fiennes is Ibsen’s Master Builder

at The Old Vic

Known from earlier roles as M in James Bond and Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, British actor Ralph Fiennes has temporary left the silver screen. Come February he enters the theatre stage as Halvard Solness, the leading role in Henrik Ibsen’s play The Master Builder – and he seems glad to be back.


I love it. This is an amazing play. For me nothing beats being in front of an audience and feeling the play evolve in front of them. You tell the audience a story, and every night it’s different. You go on a journey that’s not the same as filming”, Fiennes said while visiting The Graham Norton Show in early January, where they talked about his upcoming show.

When asked to explain what The Master Builder is all about, Fiennes said it’s about a man, a master builder, who is going through a mid-life crisis. “And into the master builder’s life walks a young 23 year old girl, who wants him to build a very tall, erect tower that goes high, high, high into the sky. And this is a proposal that excites him a lot”, Fiennes explains.

For Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder marks a turn in his writing. While earlier plays of Ibsen is constructed around social conflicts, The Master Builder is built on a more abstract and existential dilemma.

Since the play first premièred in Berlin in 1893, it has been played out on theatre stages across the world. In search of the meaning of The Master Builder, interpretations has engaged and bewildered audiences and critics alike. Later, the play has often been understood as an exploration of the author’s autobiographical history, and of issues dealing with youth versus maturity. In fact, all of the last four plays written by Ibsen tells the stories of well-established men who fails, both in their own and in others eyes. Failed love and long for youth are central themes in these works, where three of four plays ends with the death of the main character.

However, those who were to claim that Ibsen failed in his work will meet major opposition. Considered as one of the greatest Norwegian writers of all time, Ibsen is highly praised both domestically and internationally. He was a pioneer in his time, writing about social issues considered scandalous to many of his era. A wife leaving her husband, the suicide of a child who tries to prove her love for her father, infidelity and syphilis ­– and the controversy of the fact that the one who stands alone often is more “right” than the mass of people. It is not for nothing that Ibsen is called “the father of realism” or that he is considered as one of the founders of modernism in theatre.

This year, The Master Builder premieres at The Old Vic at 23 January, and runs until  19 March. Australian actress Sarah Snook plays Hilde Wangel, the young woman who enters and alters the life of the master builder. “She is seriously a gifted lady”, Fiennes said about his co-actor when attending The Graham Norton Show. Fiennes also praised director David Hare, who is a multi-award winning writer and author of 32 plays for the stage, including Skylight, The Absence Of War and Amy’s View.

Curious to know what else Ralph Fiennes had to say? See the rest of the interview in the video below:


The Old Vic, The Cut, London








Saturday 23 January – Saturday 19 March
Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat 2.30pm





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