Life of Galileo

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Billy Howle
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Brendan Cowell and Billy Howle
 (© Leon Puplett)
© Leon Puplett
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Bettrys Jones
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Brendan Cowell

Joe Wright thrillingly directs Brecht's story of a scientific visionary

Sometimes there's nothing more excruciating than a director trying to 'liven up' a classic play with a ton of OTT flourishes. And other times the director converts the theatre into a massive fuck-off planetarium and commissions an indecently banging score from one of the Chemical Brothers, and everything is just groovy.

Joe Wright's in-the-round take on Bertolt Brecht's 'Life of Galileo' falls (pretty literally) into the latter category. Indeed, not to labour the point , but if you're going to smoke a doobie before one theatre show in your life, you might as well make it this one and book yourself into one of the lie-down 'seats' directly under designer Lizzie Clachan’s planetarium dome.

It is a genuinely exhilarating bit of staging – enhanced by 59 Productions's stunning cosmic projections and Tom Rowlands’s pulsating score – that breaks down any barrier between performers and audience. Wright's take on Brecht's drama about the pioneering astronomer Galileo Galilei, but an allegory for the spread of the socialist dream – is given a giddy momentum that compensates somewhat for the production's comparative lightness.

The play's anchor is Aussie actor Brendan Cowell, known to Young Vic audiences for its soon-to-return hit 'Yerma'. He plays Galileo with a panache to match the staging. Part-rocker, part-nerd, part-mad scientist, his passion for learning animates his every action and utterance, like the first throes of a love affair that he never shrugs off. Cowell leads the night from the front, a charismatic, self-deprecating beacon of energy who helps the three hours burn by in no time.

It doesn't hit as hard as this play can hit. Wright's slightly larksome staging leaves the angstier final sections a bit underpowered. And it feels less political than one might expect from Brecht: certainly you can see something of Michael Gove's war on experts in the Vatican and the Florentine court's wilful disregard for Galileo's dogma-contradicting discoveries about the nature of the universe, but Wright seems largely content to avoid big statements. 

Still, it's too fizzing with life to feel like it's selling the writing short. This is a trip, and a good one at that.

Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Almost 3 hours passed in a flash. Brilliant energetic performance by lead actor Brendan Cowell and frequent changes of mood and set within the play to maintain interest. The acknowledgement of the audience in many scenes was a nice touch and the conversion from a very serious tale to a light play for the masses was a good one. I, for one, have had a good & enjoyable learning experience. Amazing value for a £10 ticket.


Very much enjoyed this play - the use of the planetarium on the ceiling was genius, and would have been really cool from the seats on the stage where you get to lie down. Brendan Cowell was brilliant and the whole cast were so full of energy (on the hottest day of the year), that it made the whole show very exciting. The actual story is pretty serious, but this made it very accessible and interesting. Highly recommended.


I will preface this by saying that I have played in a production of the play at university so I know it well. This is not a comedy, however they way they made they played this it added a lot of humour to what is a very serious text.

I thought the projection of the cosmos was great! They way they played with the audience was very interactive, but I felt at times it was trying too hard to be edgy. Some of the costumes were ridiculous. Also some of the monologues are long. I knew they edited the text, so I would have liked them to do a bit more to some of the VERY lengthy dialogue. 

Bendan Cowell was great as the flawed selfish genius and all parts were played really well. The music and the fun was great addition. It is a very intellectual play with great themes throughout that resonate today. I just felt it some of the text should have been edited to make it more palatable and a little less madness on set just for the sake of it. Also not to sound like a old person, but sometimes the sound was just too loud for my liking during space projection bits. As a result of the round set sometimes the spotlight was projected straight into your eyes which was unpleasant. 


Everything about Life of Galileo is glorious: the performances, the music, the design, the projections of the cosmos. This new and updated version of one of Brecht's most successful plays definitely ticks all of the right boxes.

Brendan Cowell is a bold, mercurial Galileo, and watching him, you can't help but think they could power the whole theatre with his energy. The re-imagined Young Vic space gives him a huge arena in which to play out Galileo's ideas, and Brecht's politics, and the music direction gives everything a quick pulse.

The only place the relentless pace stuttered was towards the end, where some of the monologuing seemed to drag a bit, as the politics Brecht originally explored now seem dated. This is a minor drawback, however, and the fact remains that this is a fabulous production, and well worth your time.

Quite simply not to be missed. Great use of a doughnut stage. Exciting projections on a planetarium-like ceiling. Set pieces delivered with excitement and impact. Very strong all-round cast.