REVIEW: A Life of Galileo
Or: ‘https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei – The Play’
As is perhaps explicit in the title, ‘A Life of Galileo’ resembles a summarised biography more than anything else. This is undoubtedly pretty interesting because – who would’ve guessed from the fact a play was written about him – Galileo was a pretty interesting guy.
If this was the only thing that ‘A Life of Galileo’ tried to do, though, it would be hard to recommend shelling out £6 to spend two hours watching what one could otherwise read for free on Wikipedia in five minutes. There must, therefore, be more to it than merely telling the story of his life.
Indeed there is. Upon entering the Corpus Playroom the audience is greeted by JFK’s infamous ‘We Choose To Go To The Moon’ speech (also available to listen to for free on YouTube – can recommend) echoing whimsically around the room, and the scientific hugbox then doesn’t let up for the next two hours as Galileo is essentially (ironically?) canonised as some godlike figure before whom all true scientists must prostrate themselves.
After mercilessly bashing the silly backwards Christians, who – hunched over and repeating one another’s stupid lines in an admittedly very amusing call-and-response – were painted as figures of mockery and garnered the biggest laughs of the night, the production turns its guns on the silly nobility. The silly nobility’s crime is the same as the silly Christians’: they dogmatically believe in a system of serfdom and oppression that Galileo can – according to Adam Butler-Rushton’s Ludovico – somehow eradicate by writing a book about how Jupiter has moons. Because Italian peasants read seminal books on high science. Hm.
Having rolled its eyes at the gentry and dismissed Christianity as foolish, the play skips over Galileo’s disagreements with the lesser scientists it also ignores, like Kepler (who proved Galileo wrong on numerous counts), and ends by projecting fantastic scientific moments (such as, bizarrely, the Challenger disaster) onto the walls of the Corpus Playroom. The overall effect is a wildly biased and worryingly inaccurate account of a deified man hundreds of years ahead of his time who was never wrong. About anything. Apart from when he recanted his teachings, the play concedes, thus betraying science and allowing the silly Christians to win.
Putting all of that to one side, let us consider the production itself. Performances were generally solid if a little melodramatic and got stronger as the play went on. Credit is due to Adam Mirsky (Galileo) for a nuanced and attention-grabbing portrayal of the great man as something approaching Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, except with a lot more emotional response.
Technically, this was a fittingly complex production: lights, voiceover commentaries and projection were all required (frequently simultaneously). Understandably there were a few hiccups and missed cues, but overall the staging was ambitious and worked nicely. In a play as prone to jumping around between cities and time zones as this one is, such ambition is necessary; an appreciated touch was projecting the year/venue of each scene onto the walls to allow the audience to keep track of the story’s thread.
Overall, then, this is an enjoyable show. If you can stomach historical inaccuracies as glaring as Galileo’s daughter (Isobel Laidler’s wonderful Virginia) not being sent by him to live in a convent at the age of thirteen, and a pro-Galileo/anti-everyone-else bias that at times seems a little unfair, you’ll have a pleasant evening.
If the idea of such things makes you squirm, perhaps stick to the comfortingly-cited Wikipedia page.
Check out more of Johannes’ photos here.