NEARER THE GODS: A Voyage Into Newton's Mind
Written by David Williamson, Nearer the Gods not merely about the greatest leap forward in human knowledge; Newton's discovery of the laws that govern the motion of the universe, and how Edmund Halley, an enthusiastic young astronomer, wrangled his discovery out of him, but about human behaviour and the politics of our mind. It is a story that explores the themes of rivalry, rationality, decency, love, kindness and most importantly the politics surrounding the power of knowledge, all in just two hours and ten minutes.
When I go to the theatre, I always make sure that I get there at least half an hour before the doors open, so that I can read the entire program before I enter the auditorium. As a frequent theatre-goer, I love reading the cast bios, flick through the production images, read the director's note and most importantly, the playwright's note. I love to know what drove them to write their play; why they chose this specific world to explore and why they chose these specific characters as their explorers. But most importantly; why now? One thing which stuck out to me the most from reading David Williamson's note on the subject-matter of his work was the following:
"The politics of science are no less ferocious than any field in which egotistical and clever minds are fighting for fame and a foothold in posterity."
Even before the play started, I was reflecting on that statement and on our world today; and how much, unfortunately, most times our ego gets in our way; our need for recognition, to make a name for ourselves, to be a better man. We find ourselves turning into people; into creatures we often don't recognise. But is worth it?
The relationship between Halley and Newton examine this sentiment; a relationship in which both individuals are trying to prove something to themselves; that Newton is better than his rival scientist Robert Hooke and that Halley could prove his place in the Royal Society and as essentially, a bigger man through dedicating his life to Newton's work. And Matthew Becker and Rhys Muldoon could not have done a better job bringing these characters to life. As a child, I remember watching Muldoon on play school, singing with Big Ted and Jemima and never, in my wildest dreams, would I imagine that he would be off on a mad rampage on stage, let alone drinking ale. But I guess that's what acting is all about. Muldoon perfectly captured Newton's manic side to the hatred and fury building in his eyes whenever Hook's name was mentioned in conversation. Matthew Becker brings such heart and honesty into his performance; he makes the audience feel like they are sharing an intimate conversation and allows them to venture into the intricate mind of Halley.
Kimie Tsukakoshi glowed on stage as Mary Halley, a modern-feminist icon who not only supported the ambitions of the one she loved the most but stood up for her own when she felt that they had been neglected. Her portrayal is so compassionate and warm-hearted; a true kindred spirit. Not only that, but her chemistry with Becker was electric. They could not have been more in love or more in awe of one another. William McInnes brings such humour and charisma to the pompous King Charles II and Colin Smith brings such poise and grandeur, which just the right amount of egotism and arrogance. On a directorial note, I loved how in both pre-show and interval there were characters on stage doing business; it made the audience feel like they were a part of the action before the drama started unfolding onstage
It truly is the perfect play to show off the new space, with the space extending from the auditorium into the galaxies and the world beyond. And the new Billy Brown Studio is wonderful and the smell of the new furniture which wafted into my nose as I entered the auditorium was delightful. The new space allows for a technical and movement vocabulary that is unlike any other; in which David Walters transforms the entire auditorium into a galaxy in which you can't help but reach up and try to touch the stars above you. One of my favourite snapshots from the show was when Halley, Newton and Joe Wickens (Lucas Stibbard) were looking through a glass prism, which reflected a beam of colour across the audience, as well as on the characters faces. Another snapshot which I'll never forget was when Halley and Newton were lying on the floor, looking up at the stars which was the start of Newton's new scientific explorations; including Halley's Comet.
But what impressed me the most, was the transition between each scene through the transformative use of the moving of tables and chairs, from one end of the stage to the other. It is a true testimony to the age-old say of 'less means more', and it made me feel like I was reading a book and flicking forward to the next chapter, only I had no control over what the chapter would be, as was the case in the characters' lives. I enjoyed watching the shadows of the characters in the screens which framed the outside of the space and thought that it was a very clever way of allowing Newton's mind to be present in each story. Lastly, I loved how in both pre-show and interval there were characters on stage going about with their daily routines; it made the audience feel like they were a part of the action before the drama started unfolding onstage. Steve Francis sound design compliments the text beautifully and transports you back into the age of Enlightenment.
The stagecraft and acting in this show is excellent. The narrative is both confronting, entertaining and challenges you to really delve deep into your subconscious and reflect on what makes us human, but whether our ego is worth chasing. It is a privilege to be a spectator of David Williamson's new work and as always, it is a privilege to have Sam Strong create yet another remarkable work on stage for all to see.
Rating: 5 Stars