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Posts Tagged ‘59 Productions’

I’ve never read any Paul Auster books, so I came to this stage adaptation by Duncan Macmillan cold, though it’s the third time in six days I’ve seen the work of projection masters 59 Productions, this time expanded to almost all creative inputs. As much as I admired the extraordinary stagecraft, I’m afraid I didn’t engage with the story, perhaps because I was spellbound by the staging and thereby distracted from the story. I found myself admiring the artistry without any involvement in the tale.

It’s a Chandleresque film noir tale, somewhat convoluted, involving a manic chase across New York City by reclusive novelist Daniel Quinn provoked by a call to the wrong number. He takes on the persona of Auster as private detective, but we seem to enter all sorts of alternative realities. To be honest, I got a bit lost. I was however gawping in wonder as the stage turned from one home to another to street to station and so on, through some of the slickest projections I’ve ever seen.

The main problem is that the staging swamps the story, and there’s no emotional engagement at all. You find yourself staring in wonder at the spectacle, but uninvolved in the events that unfold. I admired the performances, Leo Warner’s direction, Jenny Melville design and Lysander Ashton’s projections, but I didn’t engage with it.

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There was a time when I thought Brecht was rather earnest and somewhat dated, but Arturo Ui scrubbed up well at the Donmar Warehouse last month and now Life of Galileo comes out even fresher at the Young Vic. I’ve been critical of some theatre’s exaggerated claims of resonance with contemporary issues like Brexit and Trump of late, but at times I felt this could have been a current debate between evolutionists and Darwin denying creationists or climate change scientists and that other religion, big businesses, and their puppet president.

It follows Galileo’s story reasonably faithfully, from his application of the Dutch telescope invention to validate Copernicus’ theory of the solar system to his own original theories and inventions. Along the way, he has to pussyfoot around the control freakery of the catholic church and even the inquisition. He appears to recant, much to the disappointment of his followers, but in reality he’s buying time and continuing his work clandestinely. His promotion of truth through science even impacts his family, scuppering his daughter’s marriage to a nobleman.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has configured the theatre in-the-round, with audience members in a central pit, surrounded by a circular walkway with four bigger playing areas around it. There’s a giant dome overhead, upon which there are stunning projections by 59 Productions, from the planets to the ceilings of buildings and the sky, and excellent lighting by Jon Clark. Tom Rowlands soundtrack adds much. Joe Wright’s production is hugely inventive, but it’s not at all gimmicky. Everything seemed to be in keeping with the material and the satirical, even anarchic spirit of Brecht.

Brendan Cowell, who we last saw here in Yerma, is terrific as Galileo, a very physical and very emotional performance; his engagement with the audience is such that at times you feel you’re at his lecture, or in a personal conversation with him. He has an excellent supporting cast, from which I would single out Billy Howle, who plays five roles, most notably Galileo’s pupil Andrea from aged 10 to his adulthood journey to more science-friendly The Netherlands.

Another captivating evening at the Young Vic.

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