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Patrick Stewart In 'The Master Builder'

By James Haddock
Posted at July 1, 2003 - 12:09 PM GMT

After starring in two big budget sci-fi movies, Star Trek Nemesis and X-Men 2, Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) has returned to his first love, the theatre. The actor is currently appearing in Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder in London's West End. James Haddock recently attended a performance of the play during its national tour, and sent in this review:


Master Builder Halvard Solness is locked in a loveless, sterile and guilt-ridden marriage and is terrified that the young, rising generation will come knocking at the door. When the beautiful and mysterious Hilda arrives in town, his ambition, love and lust for life are suddenly re-awakened.


At three acts, each an hour long, my first impression was that The Master Builder could be a drag, but fortunately the play had a talented cast, including Star Trek veteran Patrick Stewart and Sue Johnston (from The Royle Family), who made it a memorable, exciting piece of live theatre.

Upon entering the surprisingly small theatre I half dreaded that I would see avid Trek fans dressed in their Starfleet costumes, as Patrick Stewart once mentioned in an interview he saw two audience members in full Starfleet regalia during one of his performances. However, the audience was a mix of older theatre-goers and young, mostly male, professionals.

One must be quite patient with The Master Builder, as it is not a contemporary work and far more static than one would expect. The translation was most interesting, and while looking at the flyer I realised that in was in fact written by John Logan, who had penned the tenth Star Trek film, Nemesis.

When the curtain rose, it revealed the most detailed set I had ever seen on stage: a drawing room in Norway in late 19th century, similar to what one would expect of a Victorian, upper class residence of the same time.

The cast members in the first scene, the old master builder, his son and the clerk, while good actors, were a little disappointing. Then, there was a confident knock at the door and the sound of a commanding voice, with a Shakespearean quality I had only ever heard on television. Out stepped Patrick Stewart.

Stewart was excellent: never could I imagine a man portraying such a different array of characteristics so perfectly. There were times when he was sad and solemn remembering the deaths of his twin sons and then when he was angry at himself, remembering his past. I could go on and on about his dramatic achievements in the play.

The audience were taken by Stewart's voice and his movement and laughed at the humour in the play that didn't even seem funny, but somehow he managed to make everyone laugh. It was an absolute delight to see Stewart doing something different from Star Trek, and you can tell that he was born a stage actor. He has that quality talent that one needs to act on a stage, a quality that most screen actors will never possess.

Despite his amazing acting ability (and a beard which tried to disguise his appearance), Stewart could not escape the occasional resemblance to his renowned alter-ego, Jean-Luc Picard, a character admired by millions of people worldwide. This resemblance was particular strong when there was a knock at the door and he commanded, "come in".

I'm quite glad Stewart didn't turn down his role as the captain of the Enterprise 15 years ago, because if he had I would have missed out on exposure to a great deal of quality film and theatre. I recommend The Master Builder to anyone: it's a great intellectual and classic play that is almost enlightening to watch.

The Master Builder runs at the Albery Theatre in London's West End until August 17. For showtimes, head over to the play's web site.

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James Haddock is a new contributor to the Trek Nation.

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