Reviews, News and Commentary

ATC brings Brecht’s great political drama to the stage

John Daly-Peoples

Michael Hurst as Galileo

THE LIFE OF GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht
Auckland Theatre Company
ASB Waterfront Theatre

22 June – 10 July

Bertolt Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” is one of the great pieces of political theatre of the twentieth century but has rarely been performed in New Zealand. Now Auckland Theatre Company will be presenting the work with Michael Hurst in the title role stars along with  Rima Te Wiata and an ensemble cast directed by ATC Creative Director Colin McColl

The play links  Galileo’s Italy of the 1600s with  Brecht’s post war Europe. In Galileo’s time, new scientific ideas were emerging that challenged centuries of religious understanding of the world while in Brecht’s time, new political systems were coming to power in the form of fascism and communism.

New scientific knowledge in Galileo’s time as well as the political changes in Brecht’s day were met with extreme resistance with Galileo facing the religious police in the form of The Inquisition,

Many of the issues around the play relate to the  Aristotelian view of the universe where the Sun and all other heavenly bodies revolved around the Earth a world view the Church accepted and promoted. Others, such as  Copernicus, had promoted the heliocentric model (of the Earth revolving around the Sun) that challenged Aristotle. In the eyes of the church this was heresy.

A 2019 New York production of the work noted that “Central to the German playwright’s philosophy of theatre-making was a Marxian horror — a real, urgent social distress over the failure of society — and an unshakeable accountability for its mending. The Brechtian aesthetic, present in all his work, is thus an identification of what needs to be changed — some alienated world — and an understanding of how theatre might represent the changing of that world. He gives us a theory of our reality and a theory of art, theatre as an autonomous understanding of that reality.”

An Australian production of the work also in 2019 said in relation to the contemporary themes in the play that “Brecht could not have foreseen the obvious parallels between the church and contemporary climate science deniers, but he shrewdly foresaw that science would always be shovelling aside the comforting sludge of ignorance. The resultant play’s fascination lies in its almost homely insights into Galileo’s genius and into his abjuring his revolutionary astronomical discoveries before the Inquisition.”

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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