A Life of Galileo

Tue 2nd – Sat 6th February 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 02:01 on 6th Feb 2016

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A Life of Galileo is a slightly surreal picture of the constant struggle of its hero, Galileo Galilei, maverick astronomer, against the world. Starting from his appropriation of the principle of the telescope, and continuing until the end of his life under house arrest, this play eloquently explored both the troubles and frustrations Galileo faced in getting his ideas understood and properly examined, and also what was actually at stake for the people of the time.

The audience, of course, side with Galileo himself from the beginning, although he can be brusque, a little socially inept, and sometimes overly passionate and lacking in understanding. The brilliance, and frustration, was enthusiastically brought to life by Adam Mirsky. But the sophistication and sensetivity of the script was such that the audience nevertheless understood, at least partially, the sources of opposition to his heretical theories. A particularly touching example of this was the Little Monk's monologue, delievered with great intensity by Inge-Vera Lipsius. What, it asks, will the peasants of seventeenth-century Italy make of their lives if the central importance of the earth is compromised? How can you reconcile yourself with the unending arduousness of your daily life when someone tells you that, in spite of everything you've heard, God has not placed you at the focal point of the universe? How easy is it to accept that he may not be watching you after all?

The stage was sparse, featuring a white circle drawn onto the ground. Before the beginning of the show, it was easy to speculate that this was perhaps going to form the conventional stage space, with events happening within the play taking place inside the circle, and everything else going on outside. This was not the case however, the circle served more as a kind of focusing aid for the action happening onstage. There was almost always something placed in the centre of it - a table, a raised platform, a traveller's trunk - making the circle mirror Galileo's heretical new maps of the solar system. One moment when this was put to particularly good use was in his frustratingly obtuse debate with two monks from the Vatican who preferred rhetorical sparring to scientific evidence. The truth of the matter, represented by Galileo's telescope, sat in the centre of the circle, while the magnificently obfuscating monks orbited around the perimeter.

The high artificiality of Brecht's style was carried across in this production, from the character's costumes to the sometimes highly choreographed and stylised movement of the actors across the stage. From one point of view, this could seem challenging to an audience, a kind of alienation which is unusual in a performance. But the odd look of the play, along with the long, dramatic monologues delivered by many of the characters also had the effect of bringing a feverish, nightmare quality to the production. This added to the sense of futility the audience shares with Galileo as he struggles against the political and theological powers who continually dismiss his theories out of hand, and obtusely refuse to accept any evidence he may try to present to them.

A Life of Galileo was an intriguing play, presenting a nuanced picture not only of Galileo's struggle, and the injustices which were doubtlessly committed against him, but also of the threat he posed to the individual world view of many people at the time. Although occaisionally let down by acting which seemed from time to time a little too big and pantomime like for the space, many of the parts were played with great conviction, and real passion. With bold choices of staging which often added to the mounting claustrophobia and frustration of the central characters, and interesting use of voice-over and music, A Life of Galileo was a thought provoking production of a challenging and engaging play.

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