In mid-June we present our summer production – Master Builder Project. In this interview, director Richard Spaul not only explores why the project is so compelling but also explains the striking dramatic techniques used in the performance. Plus, he reveals the very personal link he has with the play…

Richard, why did you choose Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder as the basis for in situ:’s production?
I’ve always found the work fascinating and perplexing. It deals with such powerful issues – Sexuality, Abuse of Power, The Death Wish. I’ve long wanted to work on it, in fact ever since I saw my parents performing in it when I was 10!

For Master Builder Project, I’ve re-adapted a number of episodes from English translations of the original play. Many of the translations are terribly stilted, so I had to edit heavily. But the essence of the original play is very much still present.

Why are you not presenting the whole play but only sections of it?

The more I studied the play the more I felt that there are extraordinary sequences and episodes in it, but there are also sequences where, it seems to me, Ibsen is struggling for meaning and articulacy. These sequences tend to be a bit repetitious and vague. So I really do feel that the work benefits from tough editing. I’m hoping the emotional charge will be much higher as a result of condensation,

Which of the characters are most central and compelling? 
The play is very nearly a dualogue. It’s dominated by two characters. Solness, the Master Builder of the title. And Hilde, his nemesis, who claims that Solness seduced her when she was just 13, and who has now returned for… we don’t know what. To claim his love? To get revenge? To get the sexual kicks she got 10 years before when he kissed her? The intense and destructive love battle between them absolutely dominates in a fascinating way.

The other characters are functional, except Solness’s wife Aline.Years before, there was a terrible fire as a result of which their two baby sons died. Since then she has experienced some sort of inner death, and walks the house like a ghost in scenes which are both compelling and scary. My Mum played that part!

The characters in Master Builder Project are all played by more than one actor. What’s your intention in doing this?
It’s impossible to say definitively what these people are like. They don’t have one personality or dimension but many – and all contradictory. Solness is part victim, part abuser, part hero, Hilde is part victim, part avenger, part seducer. There’s no simple truth to any of them.

I feel that such contradiction is best expressed by a multiplicity of performers. One performer may focus on one truthful aspect, while another performer may bring out an opposite, yet equally truthful one. It is an effective way of exploring a moral complexity which many of us wish to avoid in our contemporary lives.

For good or ill, we no longer live in a world of simple, unitary identities – this is clear in many areas of modern life. It’s a disturbing and difficult thing, but it is undeniable. One function of theatre and of art, especially experimental art such as ours, is to explore these issues in whichever way possible. The techniques we use are all aimed at doing this.

What’s important about the acting style that you encourage actors to use in the play?
We’ve done a lot of quite traditional work on how to develop presence – how to create a presence which doesn’t seem to be acting, but seems to be really there, thinking and feeling and breathing. There are lots of established techniques for doing this and we have worked on many of them. It’s a means towards heightened realism and heightened emotional intensity. It’s been a very exciting process.

Master Builder Project will be a performance in-the-round and with the actors seated among the audience. Why?
As a company, we’ve done a few in-the-round productions in the past. It’s a very focussed way of staging. The attention of the audience from all sides seems to amplify the power of the spectacle, plus the audience’s attention is also visible to the audience itself in a way which isn’t true of a conventional proscenium arch staging. So in-the-round heightens the intensity. I’ve always liked it.

In the play, you use the concept of ‘spectactors’. What is this… and what’s point of using it here?

The actors in Master Builder Project are seated amongst the audience and also watching, adding further to the intensity of the performance.

Augusto Boal, the great Brazilian director, talks about ‘spectactors’ – spectators who may intervene and become actors. We are doing something similar. The actors watch, but may be so involved in the action that they intervene in it and become part of the drama.

Usually spectators aren’t supposed to do that – and indeed in our production we would prefer the real spectators to remain in their seats! But it’s a powerful fantasy, the idea of being so caught up in something that you mistake it for reality. So we are exploring that borderline between watching and enacting – between fantasy and reality – which is a crucial element of Ibsen’s play.

Do you feel that this production will be very different from those that the audience may have seen before? How? Why? And what do you hope the audience will gain from that?
Well, I don’t know what our audiences may have seen before! But this production may well seem different to them.

I think the main thing is that Master Builder Project is a live performance in a small, intimate space. It’s not on a screen. It’s not ‘streamed’. It’s not mediated. It’s not ‘live’ but with the audience only able to see the action from afar or on another screen. This is real theatre, really happening now. I think many people crave that and feel they increasingly lack it. I think that’s the main thing.

Some audience members may well not only enjoy the actors’ performance but may also want to get involved directly and take part in future productions. How can they do that?
To get involved, you simply need get in touch with us or see what courses are available on our website.

Our group is unusual in that it is completely open access. Nobody auditions. This group of actors are the group who wanted to take part in it. They haven’t been chosen. They have chosen to do it. Anybody can do it who wishes to and can fulfil the commitment.

So we offer a great opportunity for people of any level of experience – including no experience – to learn collaborative techniques And then if they wish, to participate in a professionally-taught and directed project.

There will be a new course this coming Autumn, leading to a new performance in Summer 2024.

For details, keep an eye on this website!