views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Trials of Galileo
The Hope Theatre
10th February 2015


Tim Hardy as Galileo

Photography © Steven Gray

We all know that the Earth revolves around the sun. Fact. And yet, once upon a time, that wasn't a commonly held belief, and to suggest as much, well, it would have made you seem stupid and/or dangerous. In the early part of the 17th Century, astronomer, mathematician, scientist and dedicated Catholic Galileo Galilei was put on trial for heresy. His studies told him that our planet was not the centre of everything, but at that time, this was in contradiction to how the bible was generally interpreted. Cue a lot of anger and from some very influential people.

In The Trials of Galileo, playwright Nic Young plucks Galileo (Tim Hardy) out of the history books and presents him as a person we can all understand. Oh, he's a genius, but he's fallible, he's frail - he may come up with brilliant treatises, but he can say the wrong thing, and he's an OAP with arthritis and piles. Essentially, he's just as human and mortal as the rest of us, if not more so. Young knocks him off his pedestal and makes him relatable. Galileo is well-spoken and articulate, so when he suddenly breaks out into more colourful language, the unexpected juxtaposition creates humour. He may be a Florentine, but there's a fair bit of British throwaway snark in his dialogue.

The auditorium feels more intimate than usual - the audience curve round the scientist's writing desk, almost echoing the curved shaded moon or sun from his sketches. Hardy moves around the stage, his character agitated by his apparent inability to convince everyone that he has indeed managed to reconcile his faith in God and his belief in science, frequently locking eyes with individual spectators. As he gazes as us from mere inches away, passionately explaining his point of view, the rest of the audience fall away. Dan Saggars' lighting too make the space feel smaller - the edges are shrouded in darkness and the bright yellow lights bear down upon Hardy, again, this evoking the sun. Hardy is clearly an old-school classically trained actor and it's lovely to see this kind of quality in a small theatre pub in central London - you almost feel like you've been let in on a secret.

Ink sketches created by Lou Yates litter the floor - drawings of the planets and the stars scribbled by an excited Galileo trying to prove our planet's rotation. He can't switch off, he's always thinking, always theorising, and the piles of paper reinforce his brilliant energy. Another nice touch is the well finished period costume by Deborah AH Lawrence. In his trial, Galileo is condemned by the devil in the detail, but the production itself leaves no scope for any minor points to derail it. A few minor technical problems aside, there's a lot of polish here.

It admittedly takes a little while to get into the story - no more than ten minutes - then for the remaining hour or so, that's it, you're hooked. The narrative, a one-man dialogue, is broken up with short blackouts indicating the passage of time, with Hardy taking on the voices of the other key characters - the Pope, the judge, his lawyer. He has a challenging role, but he makes the transitions between parts feel effortless.

This is a beautifully crafted character study which puts the spotlight on one of science's greatest contributors and makes us think about the connection between science and religion. Galileo managed to reconcile the two - can we? It's an admittedly personal question, but the point is, this is not just a history lesson, it's a thought-provoking and captivating piece of theatre.

The Trials of Galileo opened on 10th February and runs until 14th February 2015 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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