Emperor and Galilean, Olivier Stage, National Theatre, July 2011.
I am really beginning to think that I should rename this blog. I assure you that I am reading but as I am working my way through the work of one particular playwright at the moment it would be quite boring to blog/read about that.
Theatre on a Sunday is quite unusual but I for one am very glad that the National Theatre had some Sunday performances as it meant that I did get the chance to see this before the run ends.
When the play opened there were a few radio items about it, and all the press I saw was favourable so I was looking forwards to this event although it is a very obscure and long Ibsen play. So obscure in fact that this is the first time it has actually been performed in English.
I wasn't disappointed. It was a little long, especially in the first half, I did find my concentration wavering a little but the acting throughout was sublime - how the lead (Andrew Scott) managed to learn all of the lines I have no idea, there is barely a scene in the 3 1/2 hours that he isn't in.
The story itself is set in around 300AD when the Roman Empire converted from the pagan religions to being broadly Christian. Julian, nephew of the emperor, has religious doubts and when he becomes emperor he decides that he will renounce this decree and that all forms of worship will be allowed. This quickly falls apart and Christians are soon being persecuted and killed. There are more themes (friendship, madness, war) but this is the general story arc.
While the acting and story were great I found the staging and costumes to be a little much. There were so many costume changes and bits of moving scenery that this did keep drawing me out of the play and back into reality. Perhaps just because you can doesn't mean you should! However this was the first time I've seen just how incredible the Oliver Stage is - Frankenstein earlier in the year really didn't use it very much at all in comparison!
Ibsen (a Norwegian) clearly wrote over a 130 years ago a play that shows how easily belief can slide into fanaticism and violence. It feels heavily prescient especially in the light of the attacks in Oslo which occurred only 48 hours before I saw this performance.
I can't say that I would rush to see more Ibsen, but having seen 2 incredible plays at the National I will certainly be trying to see more there, whether live or when they broadcast to cinemas around the country.