Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 3 – Sep 15, 2019
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht (adapted by Tom Wright)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Peter Carroll, Colin Friels, Laura McDonald, Miranda Parker, Damien Ryan, Damien Strouthos, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Sonia Todd, Rajan Velu
Images by Brett Boardman
Galileo builds a telescope, and discovers that Copernicus’ theory of a heliocentric solar system, is an unassailable fact. That may be a fundamental truth that Galileo has evidenced in early seventeenth century about our universe, but he is prohibited from making known any facts that contradict doctrinal teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Bertolt Brecht’s Life Of Galileo talks about the nature of truth, and our human capacity to deal with each other’s realities. Instead of celebrating his momentous findings, Galileo is seen as a threat by the powers that be, and is subjected to decades of suppression.
Adapted by Tom Wright, there is no doubt that the 1943 play remains resolutely pertinent. We wrestle daily with fake news, and we communicate as though the world is in constant adversarial opposition with itself, and that consensus seems to only ever be an abstract notion. We all want to be right, and it is that very refusal of ambiguity that prevents this staging from connecting with sufficient intensity. Eamon Flack’s direction delivers an enjoyable show, including enticing moments of theatricality (Paul Jackson’s lights and Jethro Woodward’s music, work marvellously at these instances of flamboyance), but the point that it ultimately does make, struggles to feel more than rudimentary. No one thinks of themselves as being on the wrong side of truth, and Life Of Galileo certainly never lets us veer away from that complacent sense of self-righteousness.
Consequently lacking in tension, the show relies on its cast to keep us engaged, if only on a level of impulse and immediacy. Leading man Colin Friels delivers conviction as the embattled Galileo, effective in conveying facets of his story that are unequivocally inspiring, even if the actor can occasionally seem slightly under-rehearsed. Excellent humour by Peter Carroll is called upon at regular intervals, to prevent the show from turning monotonous. Andrea, a student who witnesses Galileo’s struggles over decades, is played by Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, remarkable for the sincerity and emotional authenticity that she introduces to the story.
In 2019, we are alarmed by how people can construct realities that seem so far removed from facts. We argue over everything, including the very nature of objectivity, unable or unwilling to come to unity, preferring instead to persist in a world of us and them, as though the demonising of others equates to some kind of perverse comfort in one’s own life. As an audience, we wish to see Galileo stick to his guns, and go down in a blaze of glory, but he chooses survival instead, as if to challenge our notions of integrity. Co-existence means that we must share space, that right and wrong have to find ways to sit side by side. It is not only our passionate selves that are required, when we go to fight our side, but humility, and the understanding that human imperfection evades the foe as much as it does the self, should we come to recognise that the purpose is always to attain the greater good.