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A Life of Galileo – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: Bertolt Brecht, translated by Mark Ravenhill
Director: Roxana Silbert
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

 

Originally written in German shortly before World War II, this production is part of Birmingham REP’s Epic Encounters season, celebrating the work of Bertolt Brecht. This is a revival of the RSC production of A Life of Galileo, newly translated by Mark Ravenhill, which premiered there in February last year, in which Ian McDiarmid reprises his rôle as Galileo, the father of physics.

The play opens in 1610. Galileo is already a famous physicist who is convinced that Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system is correct, despite it being rejected by the Catholic Church and many astronomers of the time. Galileo lacks proof, proof he obtains using the telescope, obtained serendipitously from a pupil who recently visited Holland. Using this, Galileo can see that the Ptolemaic model cannot be correct and publishes his findings. However, the inquisition take him, threaten him with torture and, amazingly, he recants, only to continue his research under house arrest and in secret. Along the way, in a departure from the actual story of Galileo, his daughter finds she cannot marry the man she loves as long as Galileo persists in his heresy, remaining a spinster and looking after him to his death.

However, a dry synopsis of pretty dry mathematical research cannot do justice to this carnival of a play. The aspects of Brechtian writing we are familiar with are present here, with songs introducing episodes and headlines appearing above the stage. The set design of Tom Scutt is simple and minimalist, with large check patterns suggesting graph paper. This allows plenty of choreographed movement to take place, including large wheeled steps enabling multiple levels on a largely bare stage. Roxanna Silbert’s direction ensures that, throughout much of the play, there’s a genuine feeling of excitement and joy, assisted by the bright colours and brisk pace. Indeed, the whole is a feast for all the senses. At the centre is Ian McDiarmid’s understated performance as the intelligent, rational, occasionally irascible, Galileo. He is compelling throughout leading us to root for him, and making us mirror the confusion Galileo’s friends feel when he does recant. The action takes place over several decades and we see Galileo’s moods and increasing age written large in his movement and speech. A masterclass in acting indeed. But this is no one man show: he is ably assisted by long term pupil and supporter Andrea, played by Matthew Aubery, lens grinder Federzoni (Paul Hamilton) and Cosima de Medici (Lew Kum Hoi). Aubery manages the transition between slightly confused pupil at the beginning, to loyal supporter, to disillusionment and back, his character growing in stature as the play progresses. Indeed, all the cast more than fulfil their rôles, often taking multiple parts involving quick changes in mood and costume.

But this is no one man show: he is ably assisted by long term pupil and supporter Andrea, played by Matthew Aubery, lens grinder Federzoni (Paul Hamilton) and Cosima de Medici (Lew Kum Hoi). Aubery manages the transition between slightly confused pupil at the beginning, to loyal supporter, to disillusionment and back, his character growing in stature as the play progresses. Indeed, all the cast more than fulfil their rôles, often taking multiple parts involving quick changes in mood and costume.

So an illuminating and really enjoyable evening – it would be heresy to miss it.

Runs until 8 March and on tour | Image: Ellie Kurttz

 

Writer: Bertolt Brecht, translated by Mark Ravenhill Director: Roxana Silbert Reviewer: Selwyn Knight   Originally written in German shortly before World War II, this production is part of Birmingham REP’s Epic Encounters season, celebrating the work of Bertolt Brecht. This is a revival of the RSC production of A Life of Galileo, newly translated by Mark Ravenhill, which premiered there in February last year, in which Ian McDiarmid reprises his rôle as Galileo, the father of physics. The play opens in 1610. Galileo is already a famous physicist who is convinced that Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the solar system is…

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Mathematically Perfect

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.