THE LIFE OF GALILEO: Berthold Brecht, version by Mark Ravenhill
Swan Theatre, RSC, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval, till 30 03 13
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 12 02 13
Well done, but was it worth doing?Roxana Silbert’s production is energetic and thought-through. Silbert uses modern theatrical techniques and devices to add style to her production and to explore modern ways of Brecht’s alienation techniques. Indeed, Ravenhill’s re-visioning of Brecht’s play appears, in part, to want to bring Brecht’s distancing technique more to the fore than it is in the original.
Within its own terms this works well. We do sit back, listen to the debates, and consider them as we go along. The production is bright and often witty; this is particularly true in Tom Scutt’s set and costumes. It’s interesting to see, too, the actors very slightly larger than life in their character creations – characters are frequently demonstrated to us . . . just as Brecht suggests.
Ian McDiarmid’s Galileo is a real tour de force. His enthusiasm early on is engaging and his exhaustion post trial is touching. The whole family group is particularly strong and form a solid centre for the play.
Much of the debate of Brecht’s play is whether Galileo’s support for Copernicus’ theory on the movement of sun and planets was heretical. And now comes a heresy of my own.
I don’t really get Brecht. Not in the UK theatre. Not in a theatrical tradition in which we are, by nature, already distanced from what we see. The ultimate result, both in general and in this production, is that we consider the messages from time to time, but, instead of committing ourselves to the detailed debate, we too easily switch off. Which rather defeats the point.
Moreover, I am puzzled as to why the RSC commissioned Ravenhill to revision Brecht’s play in the first place. His adaptation sheds little new light on the themes, nor, really, makes it accessible to a modern audience . . . who may well find the whole venture, well, alienating.
Gethin Anthony – Cardinal Bellarmin
Matthew Aubrey – Andrea
Adam Burton – Vanni
Jake Fairbrother – Ludovico
Joel Gillman – Little Monk
Nia Gwynne – First Scholar
Paul Hamilton – Federzoni
Susan Momoko Hingley – Ballad Singer’s Wife
Joan Iyiola – Ensemble
Youssef Kerkour – Philosopher
Chris Lew Kum Hoi – Cosimo De Medici
Siu Hun Li – Very Thin Monk
Ian McDiarmid – Galileo Galilei
Jodie Mcnee – Virginia
Patrick Romer – Very Old Cardinal/Senator
Sadie Shimmin – Mrs Sarti
James Tucker – Bursar
Martin Turner – Sagredo/Cardinal Inquisitor Required
Philip Whitchurch – Cardinal Barberini/Ballad Singer
Director – Roxana Silbert
Designer – Tom Scutt
Lighting – Rick Fisher
Music and Sound – Nick Powell
Movement – Struan Leslie