Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo tells a story of hope, frustration, integrity, corruption, and the moral imperative to pursue truths about the world we inhabit. In an age where heretics are burnt at the stake, Galileo Galilei, played by Marianne James, is determined to present a proof that will demonstrate that the earth is not, as the Church has claimed, the centre of the universe, but revolves around the sun.
In a play rife with stark contrasts and irony, Galileo’s calm demeanour stands out wonderfully against the snobbish, phony, and materialistic characters that populate the stage around him. The superficially distinct dichotomy between characters presented in the script is underlined by the actors’ make-up: a red flush on the cheekbones of all characters except for Galileo and his apprentice, who sport a faint gold glimmer in its place.
Although the play is narratively quite uncomplicated, these apparently straightforward antitheses between characters and their ideologies are repeatedly complicated through the course of the play, as competing loyalties, harsh necessity, and human fallibility make for a gripping exploration of human morality. Galileo’s recurring sense of frustration with the Church and society at large, when children show more sense than the professors, finds certain parallels with our world today, and in a time of fake news, Galileo’s pursuit of truth gains a sense of urgency to which audience members can relate.
Due to the great number of characters within the play, most actors were assigned dual roles, which sometimes led to a slight loss of clarity, but emphasised the thematic antitheses of the play as audience members are encouraged to view each interaction between characters on stage as one between types rather than individuals. While the script presents a somewhat slow-paced narrative, the demoralising homogeny of Galileo’s oppressors is broken up by endearing characters such as Andrea Sarti, played by Alasdair Linn, who are given a much more individualised (if sometimes exaggerated) portrayal, which elicited much sympathy from the audience.
Overall the performance was very professional: the lines, stumbled over occasionally, were delivered in a highly engaging manner. Sound and lighting were used subtly to great effect, and the costumes, though uncomplicated, were chosen within a cohesive scheme that gave a good sense of both the general setting of the play and individual characters’ roles within it.
In a play traditionally dominated by men, it was interesting to see not only a female Galileo, but a male Virginia and an apparently entirely gender-blind cast. Both Galileo and his apprentice were shown to age throughout the course of the play in a very convincing manner, and the actors’ portrayal of emotion, ranging from childish excitement to bitter loss, seemed very genuine. An extremely thought-provoking piece, this play certainly leaves you pondering the nuance of each character’s situation long after you have left the auditorium.