Nearly 40 years after Tom Stoppard's first major hit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was first performed in Edinburgh, another Stoppard play has also had its world premiere on the Edinburgh Fringe.
In 1970, Paramount film studios invited the young playwright to produce a screenplay, drawing on Brecht's play on the life of Galileo Galilei. It was a remarkably prescient commission, 30 years before his Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, given Stoppard's later sympathy for subjects of genius who pursue their ideals to the exclusion of everything else, often with disastrous consequences.
Galileo's claim that the Earth revolved around the Sun was a heretical theory for which he could easily have been burnt at the stake by the Inquisition. But Stoppard's script never reached the screen and it was consigned to oblivion in a bottom drawer. Last year the text was published for the first time in the literary magazine Areté, and now the Oxford student theatre company Collapsible is presenting a stage adaptation made by the production's director, Jaspreet Singh Boparai.
Stoppard has apparently welcomed it, waiving the usual licence fee, and Collapsible has proved that the deterrent to the film's producers - the cost of shooting a didactic arthouse movie on location in period costume - can be easily got round in the theatre.
That is, at least, when you have the dazzling wit of Stoppard rolling off your tongue, and, when a play is delivered in such a fresh and unselfconscious way, creating such plausible situations. Himanshu Ojha takes the central role of Galileo, eloquently arguing his case, gently questioning state and Church and sparring tenderly with the mother of his children. The teamwork of the 14-strong company is impressive.
With minimal props and basic visual effects, the focus is on the words and the acting. Collapsible copes admirably with the choppy style of the script which has, Stoppard says, "fewer than half the number of scenes, at twice the length, [of what is] considered cinematic".
His distinctive, sharply observed word-spinning, though colouring the play's abstract theorising, does skip along the surface of its human dimension. But such flaws would have been ironed out if the script had been worked up to a film.
An earnest production with this imaginative company restores one's faith in a Fringe which has become disproportionately dominated by stand-up comedy and superficiality.
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