Stewart On Crafting 'The Master Builder'

By Caillan
June 6, 2003 - 10:48 AM

After what may appear to be a long absence from the theatre taking part in sci-fi adventures such as Star Trek: Nemesis and X-Men 2, Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) has returned to the stage in The Master Builder — but according to the actor, he never really stopped treading the boards.

"I've actually never been away from the stage," Stewart told Nicola Heywood-Thomas of BBC Radio Wales. "I just haven't been doing it in London." The actor told the BBC's listeners he had been theatrically active in the United States, appearing in four Broadway shows, including Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mt. Morgan.

"I've actually been pretty busy with my stage work, it just doesn't get noticed much over here," he said. "What does get noticed is Star Trek and X-Men and so forth. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to be back on the English stage."

The Master Builder has been touring England since May, with performances in Malvern, Bath and Guilford. On June 12 the play reaches West End's Albery Theatre, where it will run until August 16. "I haven't done a play in London for 16 years, and this is actually my West End debut, believe it or not," Stewart said.

Stewart noted that the play also marks the West End debut of his fellow leading actors, BAFTA-nominee Sue Johnston (The Royle Family), who he described as "terrific", and Lisa Dillon, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2002. "We're a little triumvirate of first-timers," Stewart said.

The play also has another Star Trek connection in the form of Nemesis scribe John Logan. Stewart praised Logan for his adaptation of the original piece. "It's got some fantastic language. We have a new adaptation by a very brilliant man who started life as a playwright, and is now one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, John Logan."

In The Master Builder, written in 1892 by Henrik Ibsen, Stewart plays the title character, Halvard Solness. "He is a very successful builder, he calls himself a master builder," the actor said. "In the play he says he's not an architect, because he's never qualified, never trained to be an architect."

Solness is approaching the end of his career and is worried about being surpassed by a younger generation of architects. "He has various concerns which are truly undermining him when the play begins — he's really about to disintegrate under the pressures of his fears and doubts."

Matters become more complicated when a beautiful young woman whom Solness knew many years ago enters his life again. "She says he promised that in ten years time he would come carry her off," Stewart said, and as the play opens the woman returns to collect on the debt.

The Master Builder concentrates heavily on the relationship between Solness and the young woman, Hilde Wangel. "The play is a lot of duologues, primarily duologues between Halvard Solness, the master builder, and this young, beautiful woman who erupts with calamitous impact into his and his family's life."

Stewart said the public shouldn't be intimidated by The Master Builder simply because it's an Ibsen work. "The play's a much funnier play than people usually think Ibsen as being," he said, adding, "If you'd have talked to last night's audience, you would have found that they were finding things amusing and comical all the way through the play."

The actor also described the play as "very, very sexy": "Nobody takes any clothes off, there's actually minimal physical contact, it's all about what people say to one another and how they look at one another and how they imply, which is often, I think, a bit more sexy than going at it."

The Master Builder runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, until tomorrow night, when it will then move to the West End, opening at the Albery Theatre on June 12. Further information is available at the Patrick Stewart Network.

The full 12-minute radio interview with Patrick Stewart, in which the actor talked further about The Master Builder, Star Trek and X-Men, can be downloaded in Real Media format from BBC Wales.

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