A Life of Galileo, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

4.00

 

The RSC round off their “World Elsewhere” season now with Roxana Silbert's astringent and vigorous modern-dress revival of Brecht's Galileo.

It uses a sharp new adaptation by Mark Ravenhill that emphasises the dark comedy and diversely rich theatrical inventiveness in a piece that Brecht kept revising as developments in physics and world politics threw new light on the vexed central question of the social responsibility of scientists. 

The dramatist came to think that his initial conception – that Galileo recanted in public so that he could continue to work in secret as an act of undercover resistance – was inadequate and cheap. 

The shadow of Hiroshima falls over the 1947 version which is the basis for this production and here the protagonist eventually becomes a self-despising figure who feels that, in failing to stand up to the Catholic Church, he betrayed both science and mankind, turning scientists into (as Ravenhill acridly phrases it) “a race of inventing pygmies who can be sold to the highest bidder”.

Yet even here Ian McDiarmid's electrifying portrayal continues to be wonderfully ambiguous. The now shrunken man, under long house arrest, delivers this negative verdict on himself with more than a streak of triumphant arrogance as though he's grimly pleased to be way ahead of the pack in the epic scale of his disillusion. 

And of course at the same time you can see him cunningly calculating the effect of his words on his former young disciple Andrea (a winningly Welsh-accented and stroppy Matthew Aubrey) who will be tasked with smuggling the Discorsi out of Italy.  The contradictions crackle with a sardonically conscious irony in McDiarmid's Galileo --- a foxy, slippery, hard-headed, half-whimsical visionary and and impassioned seeker of empirical truth who is not above trying to pass off the invention of the telescope as his own when it suits him. 

Performed against Tom Scutt's blue graph-paper design, the Brechtian effects sometimes feel a tad strenuous with additional information sent out as LED readouts on dangling screens and with nuns singing the rhymed introduction into oversize microphones. 

The rapping blasphemous carnival intended to show the sacrilegious impact of Galileo's discoveries on the social order comes over more as a wild end-of-term romp than (in either sense of term) a riot. But in a week when papal succession has been much on our minds, the fact that the election of Galileo's liberal-seeming friend proves to a false dawn and the rather sinister sight of all those implacably immemorial vestments speak volumes. Recommended.  

To March 30; 0844 800 1110

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power