Life of Galileo @ Young Vic Theatre

Monday 08/05/17

Cast includes Brendan Cowell as Galileo

Running Time: 3 hours, inc. interval


Brecht’s Life of Galileo is run in a new version directed by BAFTA award-winning Joe Wright and stars Brendan Cowell (Yerma, Young Vic) as the titular character. The plot charts the astronomer’s rise and fall in Italy, and his proving that the Earth moves around the Sun.

One of the exceptionally impressive things about this production is its set – it features a large circular walkway within which both action occurs and audience members sit on cushions. This walkway is excellent as it echoes the circular transits of the planets themselves (Cowell as Galileo is regularly circling the action). Around this is also more audience seating, more traditionally arranged, though the front row is slightly lower than usual and can get slightly uncomfortable.

Also efficaciously used is the huge screen that is suspended above the audience – this evokes the idea of Galileo’s telescope, and helps immerse the audience in the action, especially when couple with an especially emotive score by Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers.

The Brechtian ideas of Epic Theatre are also well used within the play, especially those of an actor presenting a character rather than being a character. This works especially well when Cowell comes out of character to inform that scene 5 has been cut – while provoking laughter it is also a key Brechtian hallmark to distance the audience. The Alienation Effect is also prevalent with scene summaries and actors seated on stage, though this is less prominent in the second half of the play.

Puppetry has become much more common in West End productions over the last ten years (especially after War Horse’s huge success) and this production features puppeteer Sarah Wright who illustrates each scene with a short puppet section which effectively sums the action and uses the Brechtian poetry to accompany it.

The larger ensemble cast are fantastic, and really pull together to create a wonderful piece. Of especial note is Cowell’s presentation of Galileo – this is a million miles away from his turn as Billie Piper’s husband in Yerma, and he really energises the role – he is constantly moving and never staying still for long, which really correlates with Wright’s direction of the piece.

Summary: A thrilling revival of Brecht’s work – another fine production from the Young Vic ****


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