28 March 2014

A Life of Galileo at the Rose Theatre

I booked A Life of Galileo as part of a session of four plays at the Rose Theatre in my continuing efforts to find things to like about the theatre, efforts that are often thwarted.

The obvious attractions of this were that Bertolt Brecht wrote it and that the Royal Shakespeare Company were performing it. I should also have recognised the name Ian McDiarmid as he played the Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars.

I was not quite in my usual seat but A39 was not too far off.

A Life of Galileo told a version of Galileo's life. I do not know his story well enough to know if it was the truth or an interpretation but that did not matter, it was a story and could be judged on that basis alone.

The Galileo we first met was a good scientist but also rather fickle and amusing with it. He stole the idea of the telescope from a Dutchman and tries to make money from it before but is thwarted when the Dutch start exporting them.

His self-importance and self-aggrandisement led him to a series of jobs where he could continue his research and he grew a small band of followers as he did so. This research, on sunspots, led to the proof that Earth did indeed move around the Sun, against the teaching of the Church.

Galileo was tried for heresy. His supporters were convinced that he would stand up for the scientific truth and were shocked when he recanted. He then spent the rest of his life locked away and it was up to his supporters to get the details of his research out of the country and to make Galileo the famous scientist that he is today.

It was always a flawed Galileo that we saw and the crux of the play was the balance between his genius and  his self-importance. In this version of his life that ended a score-draw.

The production played to those contrasts with some jolly scene mixed in with the harsh storytelling. I could appreciate all that was being done for my benefit but it never quite engaged me on an emotional level. It felt like a play for the purists rather than the public.

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