LIFE OF GALILEE, 4Star****, London, To 1 July

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by John Willett
4 stars****

Young Vic until July 1
Three Hours, with one interval.

Review: Tom Aitken, 19 May 2017

I really enjoyed this.
The theatre space at the Young Vic adapts quite readily to that of a Roman amphiteatre, and John Willett has seized on this aspect of it in his physically powerful (and often very noisy) production of Galileo, widely reckoned to be one of Bert four most important plays. (The other three are Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Woman of Sezuan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.)

All four plays (written in California during the last years of Brecht’s exile from Hitler’s Germany) emphasize the human dilemmas imposed conflicts that pose moral dilemmas. Thus, Galileo is seen increasingly as the play proceeds as someone who understands those who oppose him and his beliefs.

His moral bullying and intellectual detestation of this who oppose him and his scientific beliefs about the sun, rather than the Earth that is the centre of the cosmos, cause him anguish (at least at times) and he is clearly in turmoil, sensing that his life would be a great deal easier and more cheerfully human than he can be when he bears the weight of proclaiming important but unpopular truths.

All of this anguish and its causes are presented, as I say, as a struggle which resembles the goings on in a Roman amphitheatre.

When I arrived it seemed to me that the play was going to take place on a circular walkway elevated slightly above the floor of the central acting area which, in a ‘normal’ theatre would be the stalls.

Once the play started, however, it became clear that although a good few of those perched on cushions and the like were, indeed, members of the audience, a good many of the acting cast were distributed amongst them.

I have seen this play a number of times during a theatre-going life of more than fifty years and I think I am being fair in saying that almost all those productions depicted a hero of scientific history being persecuted by unthinking religious persons.

I found in this Young Vic production a much more evenly admirable (if, frequently, in various ways mistaken) group of people than I was used to seeing in theatre of this kind.

This did not make the disagreements in beliefs and points of view any less painful and important. But the play emerged as a tale of human endeavor to find out the truth of the matters at the centre of the controversy, rather than as a yah boo sucks fightfest between goodies and baddies.

The acting is of a high standard complimented by directorial insistence that within the context of the times the issues raised were very important indeed and needed to be understood and presented as such and, further, to be presented in such a way as to persuade the audience to identify with the speakers for so long as they held the floor.
Definitely a ‘Don’t miss’ occasion.

Cast: Ayesha Antoine, Jason Barnett, Brendon Cowell, Billy Howle, Paul Hunter, Joshua James, Bettrys Jones, Alex Murdoch, Brian Pettifer, Anjana Vasan, Sarah Wright

Director Joe Wright
Design, Lizzie Clachan
Projections 59 Productions
Music Tom Rowlands
Lighting Jon Clark
Sound Tom Gibbons
Puppett Direction Sarah Wright

2017-05-21 16:01:04

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