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Theatre Review

September 19, 2019

The Life of Galileo
By Bertolt Brecht
Adapted by Tom Wright
Directed by Eamon Flack
Belvoir Theatre Upstairs

There was a time when Brecht was not performed on any mainstage in Australia but was produced by the wonderful New Theatre in both Sydney and Melbourne.

It was not until the 1970s that major companies realised that his plays were loved and that his “theatre of alienation” attracted large audiences who loved being challenged by his ideas. I have been tracking back through my records but have not been able to find productions I have seen.

I remember being angry after seeing one production of Galileo. The treatment of Galileo by the church authorities at the time is an example of their intransigence. The earth is the centre of the universe and thou shalt not challenge this.

I remember thinking the rule of not eating meat on Fridays was stupid and, of course, this no longer exists.

In this well delivered production, in the round, Colin Friels plays in a very relaxed manner as he faces strong reactions from the church to his discoveries of the scientific reality that we revolve around the sun ... and much more. This was heresy of the worst kind.

The play, which has been adapted by Tom Wright, is much lighter than the original and even has Australian references.

This play was written by Brecht while in exile in 1938 and he rewrote it a number of times. It is, as are many of Brecht’s plays, relevant to things happening today particularly climate change. His truths about the heavens are challenged by the church as the power of the day.

The Pope (Peter Carroll) is advised by his cardinal (Damien Ryan) who is from the Inquisition. Along with Friels these are the stars of the show.

There is a scene in the second act of the Pope being dressed starting with him in ordinary clothes and every bit a frail old man and he is carefully dressed into all the glory and splendour of the Pontiff and thus becomes a different person who will cause Galileo to recant and move into exile.

Luckily Galileo defies the directions of his exile and continues to question the beliefs about the universe.

I loved this clever production. I don’t always like adapted productions but this one worked well. The theatre in the round works well not only with its obvious reference to the Universe but also by minimising the set.

My only problem with the show was the performances by the rest of the cast who were way below the performance levels of Friels, Carroll and Ryan. Sonia Todd was nowhere near as big as she needed to be as vice chancellor.

Banging Denmark
By Van Badham
Directed by Jessica Arthur
The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Sydney Theatre Company

This was an add-on production to the main subscription season. It would have played in Wharf 2 if the Wharf was not being reconstructed. It booked out very quickly and was a big success. Rightly so. It was great fun and while there were a few problems I really enjoyed it.

I was concerned as I approached it as, while I love Van Badham’s writing and her politics, she can sometimes be “way out there”. But the play showed terrific writing with great one-liners.

It opens with an online shock jock, using the persona Guy DeWitt, exhorting his all-male podcast audience to get out there and "grab pussy". It is a horrible, confronting opening.

At the other end of the stage is feminist academic Ish Madigan (Amber McMahon), hiding in her office attempting to finish her doctorial paper.

By day Guy DeWitt is Jake Newhouse, a consultant who is hopeless in the love game.

Despite Guy DeWitt having successfully sued Ish over her feminist writings, Jake goes to Ish in his normal guise for advice about librarian Anne (Michelle Lim Davidson), who does not respond to his advances.

She soon discovers who he really is and this creates an opportunity to exact revenge. She is supported by her friend Denyse (Megan Wilding) and the man who is in love with her, Toby (Patrick Jhanur).

The events that follow are fun and greatly performed by two of the funniest actors, McMahon and Wilding, with great support from the rest of the cast.

While it was well directed by Jessica Arthur and the performances were terrific, I found that the play never really took off and soared as I hoped it would.

But it really is a good look at the treatment and trolling of women and done in a very funny way. I hope it gets another life.

Early watchlist for 2020 season

Now a short look at what is coming up next year. This is probably my favourite time of the theatre year, with companies announcing their seasons for the next 12 months. It also gives you cause to think over how the companies performed in their 2019 seasons.

Opera Australia is presenting four musicals on top of their traditional operas. Bran Nue Day will be seen at Riverside Parramatta, The Secret Garden will play at the Lyric Theatre while the Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof and The Light In The Piazza will play in the Opera House.

The Ensemble season includes Black Cockatoos, the story of First Nations cricketer Johnny Mullagh, Kenny, yes the dunny film, Honour by Joanna Murray-Smith, The Caretaker by Pinter and Crunch Time by David Williamson.

Meanwhile, the Bell Shakespeare company will present Hamlet and The Comedy of Errors, and Belvoir will open with Every Brilliant Thing this time with Steve Rogers, Dance Nation, My Brilliant Career, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own with the extraordinary Anita Hegh, Maxim Gorky’s Summerfolk adapted for an Australian setting by Eamon Flack and The Jungle and The Sun from the team that gave us the brilliant Counting and Cracking.

And the only thing I know about the Sydney Theatre Company season is there will be a great musical produced with the Melbourne Theatre Company Fun Home a Broadway musical with a lesbian main character. The rest of the season will be announced soon, so watch for the ads.

Frank Barnes is retired but never retiring

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© New South Wales Teachers Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Authorised by John Dixon, General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation, 23-33 Mary St. Surry Hills NSW 2010

Privacy Policy