Life of Galileo at the Young Vic
Directed by Joe Wright, a compelling recreation of Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo is on at the Young Vic. Chronicling the experiences and discoveries of the famous physicist, the play’s central theme is the triumph of truth, enlightenment and reason when faced with resistance by ignorance in the guise of tradition. Galileo’s (Brendan Cowell) struggles to introduce his scientific discoveries are met with opposition and threats by governing authorities and the Church. The astronomer implores them to look through his telescope to see for themselves some evident realities about the universe, but they refuse, claiming they would be viewing falsehoods. Arguing that the poor need to believe in the Church’s doctrine to feel that their lives matter, a monk (Alex Murdoch) begs Galileo to forget his newfound knowledge. Galileo’s response is that only veracity and reason will help the poor to see beyond their limits.
A fascinating playwright and director, Brecht is here reinterpreted for the 21st century. His theories, influenced by Marxism, comprise among others the use of alienation to deter audience emotionality so that they may be fully cognizant of the messages conveyed. In Life of Galileo such techniques are multiple, including a planetarium on the ceiling, a stage always occupied by a large group of lounging spectators – among whom are a handful of actors – the use of puppets as narrators, casual and incongruent costuming, genderless roles, recorded sound, quirky, clown-like vignettes, and abrupt changes in tone and context. For example, a wild disco scene with glittered dancers – one being Galileo’s geeky male student turned go-go girl (Billy Howle) – is suddenly introduced between more classic narratives about physics and religion. Galileo at times transforms into technical director discussing details of the piece’s construction.
Australian actor Brendan Cowell’s rendition of Galileo is quite a tour de force, and performances by the entire cast are very effective. The set is an unusual large, round arena, and above is an extraordinary planetarium. Besides its noteworthy experimental theatricality, the work’s exposé of philosophical, scientific, and political ideas within a historical context is deeply absorbing and thought-provoking, while its premise is presented in a manner that is timeless as well as contemporary.
A fresh, witty, cutting-edge take on one of the world’s most significant dramaturgists, Life of Galileo is a remarkable and intriguing revival of Brecht’s work.
Photo: Johan Persson
Life of Galileo is at the Young Vic from 6th May until 1st July 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch Talking Telescopes with Brendan Cowell here: