Review - Nearer the Gods: Williamson’s best yet
Above: Matthew Backer as Edmund Halley and Rhys Muldoon as Isaac Newton. Below: Matthew Backer and Kimi Tsukakoshi as Mary Halley. Bottom: William McInnes as the King and Hsiao-Ling Tang as his Equery, Photos by Jeff Busby. Deanne Scott's after-show pics follow the review.
Nearer the Gods
By David Williamson
Directed by Sam Strong
Premiere and official opening of the Bille Brown theatre
Bille Brown Theatre
Season: October 6-November 3. Duration: Two hours 10 minutes including interval. Bookings: 1800 356 528 or www.queenslandtheatre.com.au
David Williamson’s plays are very familiar to me. I’ve seen most of them, acted in them and directed them and found many to be excellent entertainment but, for me, this one is the best he has ever written.
It has everything: a great storyline, conflict, love, passion, fascinating new, for many, historical alliances, a wonderfully written script with lightening moments of Williamson’s penetrating wit and an array of historical characters that are brilliantly brought to life. I loved every second of the
couple of hours it took to tell the
tale of Isaac Newton and the unleashing of his Laws of Motion.
Though the play is set in 17th century England it is not a costume drama. It is played in modern dress, and suits the action very well.
The acting from the cast of nine, directed by Sam Strong, was superb and the choreographed planetary movement as the actors changed the scene setting showed terrific imagination from Movement Director Nerida Matthaei and all this was enhanced by the moodiest of lighting plots from David Walters and sometimes spooky sound and music from Steven Francis.
It was the perfect play to show of the spanking new – and very comfortable - Bille Brown Theatre.
The story told was of Edmund Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) and his determination to get the eccentric Newton’s theories and mathematical equations into the public domain, and the enmity between Newton and the President of the Royal Society, fellow scientist Robert Hooke.
Newton, an oddball religious fanatic, had abandoned his work on gravity in a quest to find the time of Christ’s second coming through the book of Revelations.
It was an exhausting and uphill battle for the atheist Halley, who was so convincingly played by Mathew Backer, and for his ever supportive but God-fearing wife Mary, which brought another fine performance from Kimi Tsukakoshi.
I don’t think I have seen so strong a battle between believer and atheist as in this play. There were unsolvable problems on each side.
The one-on-one scenes between Halley and Mary and Halley and Newton were extraordinarily intense and Rhys Muldoon as Newton was the perfect mad professor. His mood swings were perfect and his selfish and yet not arrogant demands reached out into the audience and were as emotionally draining on us as the actors.
Then there was Colin Smith as the truly spiteful, arrogant and yet insecure Robert Hooke, Newton’s nemesis. He was a marvellous hiss and boo villain who earned the wrath of the audience.
There was even a crown presence with William McInnes playing a right Royal King Charles II. He dominated with a large and very kingly presence every time he stepped on stage and Hsiao-Ling Tang stepped in as a stone-faced King’s Equerry.
Hugh Parker was there as Sir Christopher Wren the architect as well as the Town Bailiff! Daniel Murphy was quick to successfully change roles as Royal Society’s Isaac Barrow and diarist Samuel Pepys. Lucas Stibbard had his work cut out with three roles, but nothing fazed him, not even dying in the stocks for being an atheist.
There was not a dull moment from start to finish; it was perfect entertainment.
If ever the planets met in perfect alignment it was on this opening night.
Cast and crew
William Backer with Queensland Theatre executive Director Amanda Jolly and friend. Below left: Sam Strong and right Eric Scott with playwright and actor Merlin Tong.
Part of the "house full" opening night in the new QT foyer.