An RSC Production: A Life of Galileo, Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
A Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Mark Ravenhill. Directed by Roxana Silbert at the RSC Swan Theatre.
The current RSC season takes a look at what else was going on in the world during Shakespeare’s lifetime, A Life of Galileo is the Italian input into this “World Elsewhere” theme. The play is in essence a debate between scientific logic and religious faith. An enjoyable, light hearted and humorous script devised by Mark Ravenhill and Roxana Silbert’s lively direction have the audience captivated from the word go. Galileo believes that fact based research and development is key to human advancement, whereas the church considers these issues less important than giving people a purpose in life, as faith does. The church argues that science irresponsibly draws us away from humanity by quashing religions legitimacy, thereby leaving humans on a par with animals. With debates on issues such as IVF, abortion and euthanasia constantly in and out of the headlines, this question of science’s social responsibility resonates with modern day audiences. The majority of people in Britain accept that science is factual and those that are religious generally come to terms with this by marrying the two together. However, in America there are still schools that teach religion in science lessons, so the idea “God created the world, Adam and Eve and everything we see” is readily received as fact. A Life of Galileo dramatises this debate by focusing on Galileo’s struggle to publish work that would contradict biblical teachings on the cosmos. After evading the church’s powerful autonomy for years, he is eventually branded a heretic, caught and forced to recant his findings. This plot proves extremely interesting. Viewing Galileo’s personal story gives the play depth and we learn about the origins of scientific theories we now take for granted.
Mark Ravenhill has translated Brecht’s play wonderfully, it is witty and engaging and he has given director Roxana Silbert the means to create a production that feels fresh and playful. The direction is full of contrasts that keep the audience on their toes - one moment involving them directly, the next leaving them a fly on the wall. We get off to a brilliant start as actor Ian McDiarmid (Galileo) introduces the first scene through a large red microphone; his booming voice is accompanied by LED light strips that flash the key words above the stage and along the balconies, a real credit to lighting designer Rick Fisher. This method of introducing new scenes was repeated by other members of the cast throughout the play and was crucial to the audiences understanding as the modern and abstract sets did little to convey a time and place. However, this is not a criticism, designer Tom Scutt has done the production justice by allowing the audience room for imagination. The visual impact of large sheets of bright blue graph paper cascading down from the orchestra balcony left a strong first impression on entering the theatre and his modern costumes complimented the show by helping the audience to keep the play’s contemporary connotations in mind.
In terms of execution Jodie McNee (Galileo’s daughter) was excellent. In the scene where she waited to hear if her father would recant, her frantic prayers had many of the audience fighting back tears. Philip Whitchurch’s performance also stood out, his comic timing was superb as ever. In one scene, Whitchurch compelled the audience to enjoy the surreal onslaught of a song that had the cast raucously stomping around the stage in bizarre makeup and costumes, bouncing on gym balls and wheeling hoola-hoops crying “who doesn’t want to be their own master”. The real genius of this piece though, was the scintillating performance of Ian McDiarmid as Galileo. At times he was full of dry wit, mischievous and petulant but as the play progressed and the church began to persecute Galileo, he showed a man whose spirit had been broken but not lost its rambunctious core. I was deeply impressed by his surprising and charismatic performance, throughout the play he undulated with a turbulence of emotions that brought the character to life and enchanted the audience. His acting actually over shadowed a few of the other performers who seemed a little over rehearsed in comparison. Jake Fairbrother (Ludovico), whom I had nothing but praise for after watching Orphan of Zhao, fell foul of this; his character seemed a little too similar to his role in Zhao and his performance lacked spontaneity.
However, overall this play really delivered. The RSC have managed to create a Galileo that the audience can relate to, a thought provoking and touching interpretation that at times had the audience on the edge of their seat. This, plus lashings of theatrics made for a deliciously entertaining show that should not be missed. You can catch it in Stratford-Upon-Avon from now until the 30th March.
Soon to be posted:
An RSC production of Bertolt Brecht’s “A Life of Galileo” translated by Mark Ravenhill
@The RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.
Rehearsal photos from “The Vortex”, currently playing at the Rose Theatre in Kingston
The RSC is currently running a season based on the theme “A Word Elsewhere” which looks at artists across the globe writing at the same time as Shakespeare. Orphan of Zhao is billed as the Chinese equivalent to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I was pleasantly surprised by the show, the text created a colourful visual to fill what was a minimalistic, if exotic set. The production delivers on all fronts, action packed and fast paced at no point did I feel it was dragging on, unlike it’s Russian counterpart Boris Godunov. The acting and story telling were excellent, the narrator used song to guide us through the story and little touches such as babies throughout the play being accurately sounded by actors sitting at the side of the stage, meant the audience were given a fuller picture of the child as a human being, it was emotive and added depth to the story. The play centres around the life and fate of a child whose father and entire clan were wiped out at the hands of the emperor’s advisor. Smuggled out of the city, an urgent search begins to find and deliver the “Orphan of Zhao” to the same fate, but many conspire to hide and keep him safe at their own expense. Characters struggle with internal moral battles, helping him along his way to eventually revenge the Zhao clan. The actors Joe Dixon, Graham Turner and Jake Fairbrother must be commended, their performances were strong and they really took the audience with them. It is an enthralling story that magically entwines around the watcher, to the extent that you are left on the edge of your seat to witness what happens next. Not to be missed.
Singing in the Rain was very enjoyable. If you don’t mind immersive theatre, sit in one of the first four rows and get sprayed with water as they fling themselves across the stage in the title song. The production came to the London stage last year shortly after the film The Artist was released, perhaps producers wanted to capitalise on sparked public interest in silent films. It appears to have come at an opportune time, the glamour and old fashioned romance seem to be just what the public crave as we sit in this economic downturn and night after night they are playing to a full house. Personally I felt the story lines were so similar I could have done with a longer break between seeing the two, it also felt like there was no real chemistry between the two leading actors -who should be in the throws of love. However, the production values were excellent- beautiful sets, costumes, music and singing. It certainly gives you the feel good factor, I would recommend this to people who want to see a real “show”.
One word comes to mind when assessing this play. Smashing. It was quite possibly one of my favourite Shakespeare productions of all time. And certainly the best production of Twelfth Night I have ever seen. The RSC have really outdone themselves here. The set was brilliant, used for the whole Shipwreck trilogy which are in rep at the moment (Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors and The Tempest). It was modern, as were the clothes. I am a huge fan of this as it often makes it easier for the audience to grasp who people are and their relationships to one another, far easier than when wearing traditional garb we are not familiar with. It also meant the directors (Jamie Rocha Allan and David Farr) were able to really play the language to the hilt to gain the most comedy out of the piece. Every modern connotation was made full use of and it really lit up the audience who laughed raucously throughout. Kirsty Bushell was a fresh and entertaining Olivia and there was some wonderful comedic acting by Nicholas Day playing Sir Toby. By far my favourite moment was Jonathan Slinger trust up in a pair of yellow stockings, jock strap and suit jacket as Malvolio. Honestly hilarious stuff, and do not be put off by the idea of his big white bum wobbling around, the older couple sitting next to me must have been in their 70s and were positively hysterical with laughter. I think we can expect great things in the future from relatively new director Jamie Rocha Allan.
The lord chamberlains men are an all male group of actors who tour the country as an open air Shakespeare group. Their name comes from the original group of players Shakespeare directed in the 16th Century. This was the first production I have seen by them and frankly I was expecting it to be of greater caliber. They set the plays traditionally so costumes and set were in keeping with Elizabethan times. However, with this they were also all wearing identical modern black dance pumps. It looked a little ridiculous, but could have been overlooked had their acting been up to snuff. Which unfortunately it wasn’t. Having sat through just 20 minutes I was already bored to tears and disengaged by the grand scale of emotional overacting and lofty shakespearean voices used by most of the cast. It was all I could do just to stay and try to sit through the next 2 hours. This surprised me as the cast should have been of good pedigree, with actors from RADA, Guildhall, Bristol Old Vic and other major drama schools in the UK. Alasdair Buchan playing Duncan and the Porter, was the only one to engaged the audience and was actually pretty good, despite those he played with. Lady Macbeth played by Craig Ritchie was abysmal, I honestly found it hard to sit through while he flounced and monotonously emoted, positively shrieking around the stage. Macbeth, played by Oliver Pengelly, aRADA graduate; was no better! I think the creative team are probably largely at fault here. But however you dress it, the evening finished and it was one of those rare occasions when I wished I could have the last 3 hours of my life back. One to be avoided.
Yes Prime Minister @ Trafalgar Studios.
Yes prime minister was an enjoyable romp. It was however slow to start, with the first act being devoid of any major laughs. The second act was far more promising however as the plot started to thicken and god was called upon to answer the PM’s problems of how to procure 3 hookers for a foreign diplomat! I did feel they could have taken the gags further though and although enjoyable it was not as satisfying a comedy as say some of the recent Noel Coward’s gracing the west end. This however was not the actors nor directors fault but the scripts. I did not no what to expect in terms of content and I have to be honest I expected it to be a time capsule from when the program originally aired. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a mockery of the current coalition government bringing up the theme of the EU economic crisis but if they are going to do this, I would expect it to be kept slightly more current than it was, with perhaps a prod at the news international issues and Barclays.
I did not think much to the acting by Clive Hayward, it was stale to say the least, particularly at the beginning of Act 1 which rather put me off at the start, however, he did warm into it. This is often the price we pay for long west end runs, the roles become difficult to keep fresh. As Peter Brook would put it, this was the deadly theatre in all it’s showful glory. It was perfectly enjoyable, it just wasn’t that good a piece of theatre for the connoisseur. Those that are fans of the Yes Prime Minister legacy will enjoy it, as will the general theatre goer.