Peter New’s Galileo is a charming man full of frustration and obvious delight, instinctively in love with his passion for the truth, and more susceptible to politics than he would like to believe. When he discovers incontestable proof that the current scientific order of heavens, a mythic selection of nested crystal spheres that encapsulate the earth, upon which are studded all the stars in creation, is patently false, the Roman Catholic Church decides he’s too intelligent for his own good. After all, what use are they if their God did not place Earth in the centre of the universe?
Luxuriously intellectual, the performance begins in Venice, with Galileo at his work table, tutoring a house boy in his theories and critical thinking. He is presented as poor, though brilliant, and a little at familial war with his housekeeper. The set is spare and the minimal costumes effective. (I made note of the Pope, especially.) Immediately, we are drawn into sympathy with Galileo as he struggles to overturn Dogma with Fact in a nation dominated by creepy Inquisitors. The play doesn’t really take off until the advent of the telescope, when astronomy becomes a dangerous and hotly debated subject, propelling Galileo into a risky public spot-light as a possible martyr to knowledge, but when it does, its appeal is instantaneous.
Having more characters than players, the cast was constantly switching between roles. Raphael Kepinsky, for example, flawlessly played both Ludovico, a cocky rich student in love with Galileo’s daughter, and a supercilious Cosimo, so perfectly patronizing that I constantly caught myself checking that he was not standing on tip-toe as to look even further down his nose at the liberal scientists daring to challenge the status-quo. This duality is like a ghostly reflection of the inherent dispute in the play. Every breath drawn is in defense of an argument, and while sometimes painfully amusing, some of the outdated sentiments on stage, innocent with age, are still attached to certain darkness. It occurred to me, uncertain if I could clap louder during the applause, ‘This is an old fight, but we haven’t won it yet.’