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Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Cowell’

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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Simon Stone’s play is billed as ‘after Lorca’. Though it’s still a play about a woman’s tortuous journey to bear a child, it’s a very contemporary journey featuring ovulation calculations, fertility testing and IVF. Lorca’s 1934 original was more about external, social pressure; Stone’s is more about internal, personal pressure, which she talks about openly and controversially in her blog. It is an extraordinary piece of theatre, even when measured against the Young Vic’s own extraordinary achievements in recent years. Something so dramatic, raw and visceral is very rare indeed. This is the sort of theatrical experience you’ll be talking about for years and years.

Yerma means barren, and the play revolves around Her (everywoman?) who decides in her mid-thirties, on the day her and her partner John buy a house, to start a family. They both have successful careers, Her in publishing and John in finance. Her mother Helen, a lecturer, doesn’t seem to have been a natural mother and still struggles to engage emotionally with her daughters. Her’s sister Mary announces an unexpected pregnancy soon after she has started trying to conceive, but her’s journey is much longer. Her sister appears to have inherited their mother’s lack of motherly instincts, but her’s seem completely natural when she’s with her new nephew.

At the start it’s relatively light and indeed funny, but as her difficulty conceiving continues, so her mental health declines, ultimately destroying relationships and careers. Her ex Victor, now a father himself, starts work for the same company and she ends up as his boss, but he’s more than her employee. Her much younger female assistant Des encourages her openness and edginess in publishing, perhaps an unwittingly negative contribution. In many short scenes, with music maintaining the tension in-between, her life is laid bare over a number of years. In Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design, it’s a very voyeuristic experience. It takes out Lorca’s cast of rural folk commenting on failure to procreate and strips it back to six main characters. It departs from Lorca with a different but equally tragic conclusion, but it is in essence the same story for a contemporary audience.

I’ve seen and admired all of Billie Piper’s recent stage performances, but this is on another level altogether, completely natural and simply stunning. She has terrific chemistry with Brendan Cowell’s excellent John, a totally believable couple. Maureen Beattie conveys the coldness of mother Helen. Charlotte Randle plays a more complex Mary beautifully. John MacMillan and Thalissa Teixeira complete the cast with terrific contributions. It was only the fourth performance, but I thought Stone’s production of his own play was faultless. We left the theatre drained.

You will know by now that you have to go!

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