Wow! More than 100 years after his death, a neglected drama of the master playwright Henrik Ibsen is finally making its debut! It’s been rescued from the dramatic dustbin, streamlined, and launched on the London stage. This feat has been accomplished by through the combined creative efforts of two veterans of the British stage and members of the National Theater. How exciting!
While Ibsen is probably best known today for his domestic dramas Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House, he actually wrote some two dozen major plays. Of all these works, his favorite, Emperor and Galilean, was nine hours long and had dozens of characters. No wonder it languished on library shelves for more than 100 years!
“The original text was — I’ll say it — completely unstageable, with characters giving brilliant but sprawling speeches, and then totally disappearing,” said the new show’s directors and one of its rescuers, Jonathan Kent. Though the original was unwieldy, Jonathan and his collaborator, Ian McDiarmid saw gold just waiting to be mined. Much of the writing was inspired and the play deals with universal issues: political unrest, religious conflict, power and its abuse.
Interestingly, the two creative forces behind the new work first talked about it in the 1990s, so the undertaking has been years in the making. “We felt like a great play could be sculpted from this enormous rock of Ibsen’s,” Ian says. The writer entrusted with carving out a stageable play ended up writing 15 drafts — that’s right, 15 drafts! — in order to sharpen the piece into a quest story with modern appeal.
Sounds like a fascinating journey. It’s amazing to think that even though Ibsen’s original vision remained unrealized for over 100 years, it’s finally being given life through the dedication of a creative team of drama lovers who saw something surprising and worth developing. More than a dozen drafts — that’s a lot of time and energy! Surely no writer would invest this amount of blood, sweat, and tears in revising someone else’s work unless he was genuinely inspired by it.
Wouldn’t it be exciting if this drama turned out to be a smash hit? It could happen!