I had high expectations for Icarus Theatre Collective's play, given the impressive credentials of actor Tim Hardy and Emmy Award-winning playwright Nic Young. And I wasn't disappointed. In The Trials Of Galileo, a piece of history that changed the way we look at the Universe is masterfully brought to the stage.
At 70 minutes, this is long for a one-man show, but don’t let that put you off – the solitude only adds to the drama. The scene shifts from Galileo's home in Florence to a courthouse in Rome, and the Papal gardens at the Vatican. Meanwhile, the storyline alternates between Galileo's past – when, with Pope Urban's blessing, he decides to hypothesize about the Copernican heliocentric model – to his present, where he is being held prisoner and charged with heresy.
Tim Hardy's performance is exemplary; not just as Galileo, but also as the judge, the Pope, and the lawyer. In the courtroom scene, it feels almost as if there were two actors on stage. Hardy does full justice to his background, which includes work with the BBC and RSC; he holds the floor on his own, with very little accompaniment in the form of light and sound. Props, too, are minimal, though chosen with an eye to aesthetics. A small table with a pitcher of water stands in the corner, along with a large table displaying his workings, book, and drawings – and finally the all-important telescope, which he has crafted himself.
The script is often excellent. Galileo's frustration is brought out with finesse, as he struggles with his science and his deeply religious Catholicism; his naïveté towards politics, and even the deep-seated dogma that the Church is capable of, are all explored as well. The power of the written word is underlined, and the despondency of a man of science in the face of fanaticism is highlighted.
There are some excellent turns of phrase, as when Galileo tells us that looking through the telescope he felt as if 'the entire Universe had funnelled itself through the tiny eyepiece', and some good instances of humour – the unevenness of the moon's surface is compared to 'drawing moles on the face of Madonna herself'. But even so, there were times when I found the material slightly tiresome, like being in a class about the solar system. It is hard to un-know the science we all consider basic now, and with just one man on stage, there's nothing to distract you from anything you find overly familiar.
But on the other hand, that brought me away appreciating the sacrifice and struggles of great scientists of the past – to discover the truth and fight tirelessly for it. This is a show that blends faith, religion, reason, logic, and art to great effect. Whatever your knowledge of Galileo and whatever your interest in science, you will have something to take away from this absorbing production.