If Wlodzimierz Staniewski sent a picture postcard home, it would have been the parallel scene of Aline Solness (Sanchayita Bhattacharjee) making a speech while her husband Halvard Solness (Kunal Padhi) and their guest Hilda Wangel (Anubha Fatehpuria) watch from behind, wild-eyed.
The Master Builder was the opening play of the Delhi Ibsen Festival’s professional edition. The festival, on till December 9, is organised by the Dramatic Art and Design Academy and the Norwegian Embassy. The play was also supported by the Capital’s Polish Institute.
Polish legend Staniewski, who directed the play by Kolkata’s Padatik, created an unbridgeable space with Dinesh Poddar’s lighting. Soumik Chakraborty’s sets had agile doors which resembled a burnt home. Staniewski used the doors in multiple arrangements — as links between parallel realities of the narrative, as a maze of emotions and as imposing markers of time.
The director’s vision of infusing “Luciferian energy” into the interaction of the characters was successfully executed by Padatik employing its finesse in dance and expression. Dancing girls depict the angst and emotional churning accompanied by notes from tablas and sitars. Even the dialogue flows with expressive gestures and synchronised movements — often combative like an audacious painting.
Music director Jayanta Banerjee cleverly uses Chopin in musical interludes that bind the ideas in Ibsen’s script. These devices collectively generate an eerie energy and lend to the seamless narration of a performance — that actually creates breaks in the playwright’s stream of thought, giving gasps of breath of introspection to the audience.
In just four weeks of rehearsal in Kolkata, Staniewski has successfully scripted a reference for deconstructing Ibsen with one of his more difficult plays.
This was possible due to immense acting skill the director had a chance to play with. Hilda Wangel’s character — seductive and eccentric — in many ways defined the central ideas of the play. She determinedly scrapes the surface of civility exposing not only the fissures of the social construct of the Solness’ existence but also painfully brings to fore Halvard’s insecurities and confusion.
It was natural to expect experienced actors not to be contrived, but Anubha exceeded this — she possessed the stage in her bright red costume.
The towering yet shaken builder, Halvard, was played well by Kunal. Padatik’s actors often spoke like Shakespearean players — projecting the voices powerfully and carrying themselves in a seemingly British yet uncontrived manner. Kunal’s performance was an example of versatility, as he quickly shifted from the multiple mental states of his character — nonchalant and vulnerable, confident yet crumbling.
Staniewski coaxed the comedy through many characters and devices — be it the broken table or comically angry Knut Brovik (Janardan Ghosh) or through Dr. Herdal (Mahmud Alam), the inquisitive and rotund family physician.
All this worked well as a play, as a matter of course. What made this one worth writing home about was its undercurrent of playful conversation between the actors, the playwright and an educated audience that thought they knew Ibsen.