How do you deal with knowledge? Do you choose truth or life? Tim Hardy, who plays Galileo in The Trials of Galileo, tells Veronica Stivala what it is like to play a naïve genius.

Tim HardyTim Hardy

The tragedy of Italian physicist Galileo was a mistaken belief that all he had to do was show his reasoning and evidence and the Church would fall in behind him.

“The universe is a divine miracle, Galileo, not a clockwork toy!” Pope Urbanus had reprimanded. “‘Proof’,” he said, “denies faith, and without faith we are nothing.”

As part of this year’s Science in the City, Icarus Theatre will be presenting The Trials of Galileo in collaboration with the university’s Research, Innovation, Deve-lopment Trust (RIDT) and the Manoel Theatre.

This one-man play focuses on the events surrounding his trial for heresy in 1633. Galileo understood the science better than any man alive, but never grasped the politics. Until it was too late.

Written by Emmy Award-winner Nic Young, the play tells the story of deeply-Catholic Galileo who has indubitable proof that the sun is the central point of our universe. Catholic dogma, on the other hand, states that Earth is the centre of God’s creation. It tackles how he deals with knowledge. Does he choose truth or life?

With “a delicious dollop of sarcasm and wit”, Tim Hardy (professor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, veteran of The Royal Shakespeare Company, and star of major European tours) attempts to describe such inner conflict.

Icarus Theatre Collective’s The Trials of Galileo premiered in Indianapolis in 2008. It has travelled the world playing to full houses and receiving positive reviews along the way.

A review in Round Town attributed the success of the show to its language: “These might be complicated historical matters, but the script wonderfully and faultlessly brought alive by the actor is very modern – and it helps get the grey matter going.”

Hardy’s relationship with Galileo began on television, in a series for the BBC called Days That Shook The World. The episode on Galileo was written and directed by Nic Young.

Hardy has been playing this role for some six years and admits he never had such a long relationship with a text.

“I’ve discovered that it somehow settles deeper and deeper as the time goes by, even when I haven’t been playing the show for a while,” he says.

“What that means,” he elabor-ates, “is that it really doesn’t feel like someone else’s words any more, that the thoughts are just there, which is great.”

Young, who wrote and directed the show, quite rightly sees the show as a living thing, so they still rehearse, alter things, and generally try to improve the work as they find out more and more how best to serve the text. Having played this physicist for so long, Hardy has built a strong relationship with him. He explains how the Galileo he has come to know is someone “who in what he knew and understood was surely brilliant and possibly a genius.

“What he entirely failed to understand, until it was too late, was that his conflict with the Catholic Church was never a question of proof, but of politics.

“In this he was naïve and quite unseeing, and for this he had to pay the price.”

If you play this show in the Bible Belt, you’d better have your facts right

We discuss audiences’ reactions to the play. Having first played to audiences in Indianapolis, Hardy notes how “if you play this show in the Bible Belt of America, you’d better have your facts right”.

The next venue after Indiana-polis was Notre Dame, one of the foremost Catholic universities of the world.

Looking back, Hardy says how the reception there was as warm and appreciative as any the show has received, because this is not a polemic on behalf of science as opposed to religion.

“It’s about the collision – the course on which circumstances placed two basically well-intentioned men – Galileo and the Pope,” he says.

He reveals that there were two occasions elsewhere when the show led to a “frank ex­change of views”, but they were the exceptions.

But Hardy did have a get-out-of-jail question ready: when was the last time a bunch of scientists burned a Pope to death because they didn’t approve of what he was saying?

Hardy is greatly looking forward to performing in Malta. “I’ll be playing to an international audience of scientists in a convention which has never included a piece of theatre before. It’s likely that I’ll be attempting to bring to life a man many of the audience will have only met in their textbooks.

“ I will also be playing the show in some prestigious venues – in New York and Philadelphia, for example – which is great.

“But these are places used to theatre. I feel that the performance in Malta will provide in some ways a sterner test, and if it works, then that – in some ways – will be the most satisfying thing of all.”

Tim Hardy will be giving a workshop at the M Space, Msida, on Friday in collaboration with Masquerade Theatre and Arts School.

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