The world doesn’t revolve around us anymore.
Life of Galileo is a worthy choice by Belvoir for this season. Brecht’s plays have had a timely resurgence recently with the Irresistible Rise of Arturo Ui preformed by Sydney Theatre Company last year. Originally, it was thought to represent a comment on communism and the suppression of truth when it was first written by Bertolt Brecht in 1938.
Life of Galileo sees Brecht pitting the idea of science against the church – the rulers of the time. Although it was first produced in 1943, the play is as relevant as ever now, as governments choose to ignore the science of climate change in deference to business and vested interests.
The play opens with Galileo living and working in 17th century Venice. He wants to buy himself time to do more research and to stop tutoring private students which he needs to do to help him make ends meet. He meets with the Vice Chancellor of his university and she tells him that he has to be business-like and give to business and government something they can monetise if they are going to value him more.
Fortuitously, he learns from one of his students who has just returned from Amsterdam that there is a new invention using two lens created to see long distances. The telescope is something that Galileo understands can have multiple uses. For both business and government it can see advancing enemies and weather patterns. He is learning about the universe and the great likeliness that the discovery of Nicolaus Copernicus was correct in his theory that the sun was at the centre of our universe and not the earth as was popularly believed. .
However, spreading the new knowledge provided a challenge for the church and the current way of life. The authorities found it more palatable to discredit Galileo than to challenge their world order.
Colin Friels in the title role excels – he is in every scene and gives the precise amount of passion and measure that is the character, as well as a sly knowing tone. He starts the play wanting to participate in the scientific conversations and discoveries, passionate about finding the truth. He remains optimistic as he’s warned about the church and rulers not wanting to know about his discoveries. Friels takes the audience with him each step of the way as he eventually finds his spirit broken by the business world with the church beating him down as he is forced to understand the realities of life with his truth.
Galileo is set in the round, which was the way Brecht liked his plays performed, with the audience feeling very much included in the action. The set is brightly lit and minimalist with only a couple of chairs, a series of hanging balls as planets, a telescope and a few small props. It is the actors who hold the attention, and the cast does well. They are dressed in modern-day garb and are going into modern clubs – there are scenes which show modern objects such as a mobile phone.This is juxtaposed cleverly with Peter Carroll as the Pope going though an excessive dressing scene which depicts a lack of change in the church and the absolute adherence to outdated tradition and ritual. We are shown clergy going into nightclubs with women, behaving inappropriately yet it will not modernise or lose its ritual. It’s what gives the church its power.
Director, Eamon Flack is passionate about the play and what it represents to him. He says it is much easier to live by a lie than by the truth – comfort is easier to come by if you stand by the lie. Inspired by climate change and the recent federal election, Flack says, “we are no longer on the old road of reason and progress, we are in a war between delusion and reality”.
Brecht writes with great prescience – he is able to choose the right stories to parallel with his world and we are able to take these stories and marry them to our contemporary surrounds to keep them relevant. The themes are large and revolve around truth, perception, and the interests of each other.
Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as one of Galileo’s loyal students is one of Belvoir’s fresh new faces and appeared in Belvoir’s award winning Counting and Cracking earlier this year, for which she won a Helpmann Award as Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Sonia Todd plays a number of characters, most memorably the Vice Chancellor, and gives solid performances as both.
Belvoir is doing great work this year and Life of Galileo is just another successful play in its strong season.
When: till Sunday 15 September 2019
Where: Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St Surry Hills
For more information visit: Belvoir St Theatre