A Life of Galileo at Bath Theatre Royal

1 A Life of Galileo - Ian McDiarmid (Galileo) Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Cosimo de Medici) Paul Westwood (Ludovico) - credit Ellie KurtzMARK Ravenhill’s stunning adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s A Life of Galileo was first staged at Stratford-upon-Avon a year ago, and now the production, by Roxana Silbert for the RSC, has been revived by Theatre Royal Bath and Birmingham Repertory Company.

Performed almost entirely in modern dress on a set using Go-Pak tables, steel mobile safety steps and graph hangings, it’s a helter-skelter dash through the excitement of Galileo Galilei’s discoveries and the difficulties he had in getting them accepted.

It starts in Padua University as the mathematician Galileo, attempting to prove the theory of Copernicus, is visited by a young Flemish student looking for lessons but carrying a new Dutch discovery – the spyglass. Recognising its potential not only to make money for the Republic of Venice but for looking into the universe, the wily and pleasure-loving Galileo passes it off as his own invention.

With it, he and his devoted student Andrea can see with their own eyes that the Earth is NOT at the centre of the universe. But it’s not a fact that either the all-powerful church nor the Italian population wants to believe.

Brecht’s original play, written between 1945 and 1947, had a German and an English version, the latter starring Charles Laughton in the title role.

The current production has the mesmerisingly exciting Ian McDiarmid as the astronomer, and there is no-one better at infecting an audience with the thrill of complex scientific ideas than he. His Galileo (and Ravenhill’s) must have been an infuriating but constantly invigorating companion, a man who ignored the arrogant superiority of the classically-educated elite to explain the most arcane of theories in the simplest terms (and the language of the people).

And that excitement is transmitted to the audience in this remarkable production.

It was Brecht’s own idea to include incidental music, but he didn’t have recourse to roving mics and hiphop, as Nick Powell does for this staging, and remarkably effective it is.

The adaptor and director remove the worthy awe that sometimes surrounds Brecht, shining the sunlight on his wit and mischievous delight in the man who was one of the greatest thinkers of history.

It is an inspired staging of a complex, theatrical and entertaining play, but it’s not an easy ride. You need to pay attention, and it’s time brilliantly spent.

A Life of Galileo is on at Bath Theatre Royal until Saturday.


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