Emperor & Galilean is a divisive play. It's three and a half hours long (originally circa nine hours, thank you Ibsen), tells the story of the last pagan Roman emperor, Julian, and is written by the aforementioned Norwegian.
However, here's the plus side to all of this: Ben Power's adaptation is stonkingly good. It's hard to tell what's Ibsen and what's Power without looking at an original manuscript, but he's done a fantastic job. Secondly, it's very pacey and it moves along at a seriously fast snap, without affecting the story. Thirdly, Julian's story is really, really interesting. He is a truly fascinating person - there are many things to talk about when it comes to him, his motivation, his influences and so on.
As Julian, Andrew Scott (formerly of Design For Living, Cock, Sea Wall, Roaring Trade... the list goes on) is excellent. He is barely off stage but, as ever, completely commands it when around and about. Scott's energy and nuance has to be seen to be believed - this is a man who can charm an 80-seater and also hold an Olivier audience in the palm of his hand.
As best friend Peter, John Heffernan is wonderful. This terribly charismatic, charming actor is also superb at nuance and demonstrates this fully as poor Peter, who is faithful to Julian until the end. Isn't it time Heffernan was given a really big lead part in the West End? His exquisite Richard II at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol proves he has the chops for it.
Jamie Ballard is powerful as Gregory, who leaves Julian early on and diverts onto a path of true Christianity. James McArdle, too, is intriguing as childhood friend Agathon, growing ever more disturbed as Julian treads his way down the pagan path. The rest of the ensemble work well together and provide strong support throughout.
Niggles? Ian McDiarmid could have been a little more forceful as the manipulative Maximus, while Nabil Shaban needs to enunciate more clearly as the emperor Constantius.
But these are small tweaks - this is a fantastic, never-to-be-seen-again production that you shouldn't miss. Julian is a thrilling figure and thoughts on his behaviour, why he did it, how much in control he was are no doubt going to be sharply divided - if you want to have something really interesting to argue about post-show, go and see Emperor & Galilean.