Galileo Galilei is a name probably more familiar to many people now due to a line in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or the name of a NASA probe investigating the planet Jupiter, but who was he?
Well, Galileo Galilei was an Italian genius of his day (1564 to 1642) – a mathematician, astronomer, physicist, philosopher and general inquiring mind of how everything worked, and it is that inquiring mind that questioned everything around him that ultimately brought him into almost fatal conflict with the authority, church, and state (they were pretty much all one) of the day.
General astronomy was always a childhood fascination of mine, and Galileo with his observations that, contrary to the teachings of Aristotle and the Bible, the Earth and the known planets did in fact move and revolve around the sun brought him to my interest too as a child. Galileo was also a scientific instrument maker and made custom telescopes for clients too. One of his own hand built telescopes was the best of its time and its unique 32x magnification had allowed him to witness things in the sky that no man had ever seen before...things like the terrain of the moon, the shifting phases of Venus, sun spots, and the moving four moons (all they could see at the time) of Jupiter. I was then curious to see how this subject would work as a solo performance on stage.
For this review, I am going to leave the science and ideologies of the day alone as although this work is about them, they are almost at times side issues to the politics of the day that were the real issue here, and Tim Hardy as Galileo does an excellent job of enlightening the audience into the basics of the science and Church doctrine as this one hour play develops anyhow (and learning some of that is part of the pleasure of this work).
Tim Hardy does a very skilful job of immediately pulling his audience into the story. We start with a man just after the sentence of the court. Galileo is 70 years of age, has been on trial for three months and to avoid torture (and probably death) has been forced to sign paperwork disclaiming his theories. As well as that, he is under house arrest for the rest of his life, he may neither publish, discuss or teach any more of his theories of planetary motion, and his book on it is banned…in short his career as a questioning scientist and mathematician is over, his reputation is in ruins.
From this starting point, Tim gives us a man questioning his weakness in not standing up for his ideals, his stupidity in believing that his work was with the blessing of “The Pope himself”, and his belief that he could somehow in his work discuss (even as philosophical debate) the earlier banned work of astronomer Copernicus.
Galileo may have been a genius, but he was also a bit of a naïve fool in not understanding the politics of Church and State of his day, and this performance brings that over gently, but forcibly. This was a man who simply had to be silenced at any cost. The authorities of the day controlled everything by the word of the Bible. Anything that questioned that, questioned them...simple as that.
The trial of Galileo was a farce of a mock trial. The guilty verdict was already written the moment the letter advising him to go to Rome was written.
I liked this show a lot. It does what only live theatre can do, and that is allow a master story teller like Tim Hardy to draw an audience into their story and world. That need to be captivated by a story teller is probably one of the oldest responses in man, and theatre does it in a way that just does not work on the same level in other media such as film or television.
This is a moving performance depicting a man who at the height of his fame was crushed by the full weight of the Church State. Somehow though, Galileo may have lost his faith in the people of the church, but he never lost his faith in his religion and his God, and that is powerfully shown at the very end of this performance.
This is a thought provoking piece of work by an obviously talented creative team that includes amongst others Nic Young (writer & director) and Max Lewendel (producer).