Henrik Ibsen was a great towering man of words, a serious playwright, sometimes referred to as 'the father' of modern theatre because he pared back the pervading theatrical traditions of his day and dealt with drama in the raw. He demanded much respect and his works are still treated with veneration. So if he says that Emperor and Galiean is his major work then why is it so rarely performed?
Whatever the reason – and there are many Ibsen scholars who have an opinion on this – it seems only reasonable to take the great man's word for it and see what he would call his masterpiece. It's on at The National at the moment until mid August, so you should take advantage of that fact and see it while you can – productions are very few and far between: in fact this is the first time it's been performed in English.
Jonathan Kent is directing and Ben Power is responsible for the writing edits of this 'new version' of the story. Which covers 12 years, beginning in AD351, of the life of 'Julian the Apostate', the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, who was bent on bringing back the 'old' values of the empire despite being bogged down in the bureaucracy and religious turmoil of his age.
Young Prince Julian is a thoughtful soul, who's main interest is in understanding the world around him – he's drawn to logic and the beauty of thought of the ancient Greeks. Proclaimed Emperor, philosophical Julian has seen in a vision that it's his destiny to abolish Christianity and restore the old Gods, but his plans are met with fierce resistance and he ends up being a more brutal ruler than his corrupt and violent uncle, the previous Emperor. In the end it's his attempts to crush Christianity that makes it stronger, as prior to his decrees, the populace were quizzical about, rather than devoted, to Christianity.
Scott and Power
To fully bring this piece of high drama to life, Power and Kent have employed a cast of 50 and an incredible audio backdrop that they promise will 'create a cathedral of sound and ritual'. Sounds impressive. Julian is played by Andrew Scott and Ian McDiarmid is Maximus – but not that one, one who helps Julian understand his visions.