Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen
National Theatre, London SE1
Bird’s Eye Ibsen
An odd, vertiginous night for TLT and her trusty automated Tonto for Henrik Ibsen’s longest play Emperor and Galilean. Odd for the moments of longeur and even the occasional sneaky peak at the watch. Yet, at the end, with a more aerial view, and arguments and imagery brought together, the experience felt valuable and moving. Set in classical times, it starts as a kind of Scandinavian Hamlet (yes, TLT knows where Elsinore is, but neither Shakespeare nor the Emperor Julian of this play were Scandinavian and Ibsen was!). Then transforms into some kind of Macbeth before a painful and anguished sacrificial finale. Actually, if one is to have confidence in the conclusions of translation and adaptation, it follows one man’s life from immature philosopher to warrior leader and final physical and spiritual defeat in the never-ending battle between pagan and Christian. At least, TLT would like to think of it as never-ending rather the more absolute idea of Third Reich fusion, apparently later adopted by National Socialist philosophy for its own ends. There were junctions when everything sparked with flickerings of contemporary resonance – even with touches of piercing humour to warm up the austere, gargantuan text and design. But other times it felt just too schematic. Nevertheless the passage from lush Eastern religiosity through clean classical architecture to modern warfare and then back to the pathos and agony of the ending framed like a painting, classically-clad but New Testament-inspired, did eventually impose a pictorial and sensory logic. The acting was uniformly magnificent; the design, including multimedia, awe-inspiring but the length of the play gave TLT time to reflect the Olivier is a big stage to fill. So hovering above this with hindsight, a green light for the acting and imagination behind this production, but, factoring in the ups and downs of a long evening, an amber light.