Hilde doesn't represent the kind of professional challenge that the Master Builder has been fearing, though the actress playing her might well cause more than a frisson of such insecurity in the actor playing Solness. It would be especially understandable if, as in Peter Hall's new staging, Hilde were impersonated by a newcomer with the formidable talent of Victoria Hamilton.
Those of us who observed this girl in her first two engagements (both at the Orange Tree) were in no doubt that here was a future star. Indeed, it's now possible to see her extraordinary performance in James Saunders's Retreat as a dry-run for Hilde. The dramatic function of the Saunders character - who descends, out of the blue, on a middle-aged journalist and old family friend, demanding a home and disturbing the highly precarious balance of his guilt-haunted menage - is strikingly similar to that of Ibsen's heroine, even down to the way both figures seemed to have been summoned out of the protagonist's psyche.
Making brilliant use of that dark-eyed, disquietingly direct gaze of hers, Hamilton plays Hilde as a bewitching child-woman, to a large extent not so much amoral or immoral as pre-moral, before the suffering of Solness's wife gets through to her. There's comedy in her no-nonsense, unnervingly resolute manner: she reports that the 10 years are up and that she has returned for her kingdom with a weirdly matter-of-fact impatience quite as though this were some bet they had made five minutes ago and Solness was being rude dragging his heels. Hers is a much less sexual rendering of Hilde than is customary, but that doesn't diminish a sense of the liabilities posed by this troll-muse. In the strangulated gurgle of pleasure she emts as Solness determines to climb the tower and in the crazedly elated wave she resumes after the accident, to blank out the knowledge he has fallen, you perceive a dangerous, yet curiously vulnerable, fanatic who will only take risks for her ideals by proxy.
Good at suggesting the flustered bad faith and the evasiveness of the Master Builder, Alan Bates's performance doesn't have the weight to convince you of the compulsions and the inner demons. As his wife, Gemma Jones is immensely impressive. Looking almost posthumous in her sallow, chronically apologetic desiccation she at one point yearningly reaches down to touch the sunbathing Hilde, only to retract her hand with an air of embarrassed unworthiness. A distressing reminder, that, of the mothering instinct which has been sacrificed on the altar of her husband's career. It's not a sentimental portrait, though, for you see how, for this woman, "duty" sometimes furnishes a way of avoiding more painful responsibilities. The sound of Solness's amplified heartbeats may provide the aural frame for the production, but it's the two female stars who make the pulses quicken.
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