The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Recommended: Bertolt Brecht's play on Galileo Galilei, the man who changed the way we understand the world around us
Perhaps Bertolt Brecht's greatest play, A Life Of Galileo was written and revised during the most critical moments of modern times, the build-up to and tragic disaster of the second world war.
Written while Brecht was on the run from nazism, this dramatic depiction of the life of the man who created modern physics and fundamentally changed man's understanding of the nature of the world and humanity's place in it stands as a monumental statement of the individual's responsibility to humanity.
Galileo's proof of the Copernican hypothesis that the Earth was not a fixed entity at the centre of the universe but one more whirling rock among many controlled by the magnetic power of the sun may not have had the catastrophic impact of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
But it shook the established power of the Catholic church to its roots, replacing a blind and manipulated faith by questioning doubt - if God and the Pope's world was not the centre of man's existence and purpose, then perhaps the former did not exist and the latter was a super con man.
Yet Brecht's seminal play presents a dilemma for director and actor.
When one of history's greatest scientists recants before the physical terrors of the Inquisition's torturers, denying the very truths of his discoveries, did he betray science and the new world hopes of the masses or did he survive personally, knowing that truth, unlike human flesh, would not recant but remain to serve successive generations in their ongoing struggle?
Brecht himself saw his protagonist as a man who put science before social responsibility. At a truly revolutionary moment, Galileo chose not to empower the people by defiantly putting scientific progress at their service but to allow their beleaguered masters to regroup and use the new knowledge for their own ends.
The problem is that Brecht presents us with a protagonist who is a mixture of infectious cunning, engaging wit and determination but who is at the same time crafty and naive.
In Roxana Silbert's production, Ian McDiarmid's Galileo charms the audience with his boyish enthusiasm. With little or no concern for the danger his experiments may lead him into, he delights in the ironies of his situation.
Although worn out, almost blind and obsessed with his next meal, he finally smuggles out his great work and his unassuaged guilt draws our sympathies.
"Unhappy the land that needs heroes," he remarks to his young student Andrea.
Silbert nods to the 17th-century setting with occasional period costume detail but this is no historical bioplay but staged in a modern academic world with laser pointer and power point display.
Brecht's dialectic approach requires audience attention but here the intellectual demands are eased by an anarchic carnival celebrating a new age and Galileo, "the breaker of bibles."
His plays, often misunderstood and mauled by inept theorisers, have never been popular fare for our commercial theatres, serving up their heavily weighted diet of musical "entertainment."
But if drama is to fulfil its role of holding the mirror up to nature and demanding that its audiences think and question, then Brecht's work provides a keystone for meaningful progress.
The RSC deserve praise over the years for keeping his work true to its creator's intentions.
Runs in repertoire until March 30. Box office: (01789)-403492.
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