Dr Gemma Regan
I'm a writer, arts reviewer, a scientist, a UFO researcher and a Radio host for 4ZZZ 102.1FM with my show The Witching Hour exploring the paranormal, conspiracy and the esoteric. www.4zzzfm.org.au/program/the-witching-hour
Get Nearer to the Gods of Universal Law at the Billie Brown
Get to be Nearer the Gods at the new Billie Brown Theatre
The world premiere of Nearer the Gods and it being the inaugural play in the new Billie Brown Theatre was an exciting and much-anticipated event. In the words of the playwright David Williamson "Nearer the Gods is about brilliance and bastardry. The toxic disconnect between our highest and basest potentials." But it is much more, highlighting the treachery and rivalry involved at the dawn of scientific illumination and set in 1684.
An inimitable, idiosyncratic Isaac Newton, brilliantly played by Rhys Muldoon, is already known for his theory of gravity, he has embarked on his theories of the laws of motion with a full explanation of planetary motion in his heavenly sights. The almost impossible task of obtaining and publishing the laws and Newton's equations using Calculus, his new form of mathematics, has been given to the plucky young astronomer Edmund Halley (Matthew Backer) by the pompous King Charles II himself (William McInnes). Employed by the Royal Society, Halley must put his own research, wife and baby on hold to pursue Newton and cajole him with flattery, enthusiasm and lies to obtain and publish his momentous work on the link between mass and gravity. To be the first of three volumes of the Philosophić Naturalis Principia Mathematica. However, the dastardly Robert Hooke (Colin Smith), working as curator of experiments for the Royal Society, demands to be named as the co-founder of Newton's new theories and refuses to publish the groundbreaking work without acknowledgement. Newton already has a hatred for the thief Hooke, who stole his theory of the inverse square law and so refuses to be coerced by the treacherous scientist.
The play opens with Newton sitting writing at his desk with parchment and quill in period costume and wig, placing the scene at the Royal Society in 1684. Suddenly he rips off his wig and frock coat to exclaim that it the play will be portrayed in a modern dress and with flair and style. The setting is modern, with very few props or scenery, instead utilising the brand new state-of-the-art corner glass-walled stage, with refurbishments costing $5.5m. The new layout is cleverly designed so everyone in the audience of the 351-seat Billie Brown Theatre is closer than 15 metres from the actors, enabling the audience to be part of the action. Sliding glass panels were moved intermittently by the actors to reveal hidden scenes and invisible doors. Prop changes were also innovative and interesting, designed by the movement artist Nerida Matthei. The actors zoomed tables and chairs between the three wings, creating almost mathematical patterns that would be envied by Busby Berkley! Multiple tiny lights in the ceiling and wall also transformed the theatre to a glorious night sky, as the astronomers pondered on their theories of Universal Law enhancing the whole experience.
Nearer the Gods was fast paced with a cast of nine and seamless transitions from one scene to the next, with the blink of an eye, the spin of a table or by an actor gliding magically into place. Every character was thoughtfully portrayed with favourites being Halley, King Charles II and Newton. The commanding physical presence of William McInnes in his debut with Queensland Theatre as King Charles II, with his booming resonant voice and bold mannerisms had the audience cowering under his presence when he exclaimed to Halley that Newton shouldn't be focussing on the comets as part of his grand theory with "No-one is remembered for a comet!" Matthew Backer (Switzerland), as Halley was convincing, as the manipulative young underdog amongst the more famous scientists including Christopher Wren, played by Hugh Parker (The 39 Steps, Scenes from a Marriage). Newton played by Rhys Muldoon, in his debut with Queensland Theatre seemed repulsive and crazy enough that those audience members in the front row who were effectively sitting on the stage, recoiled as he stomped near them in a zealous rage!
David Williamson's Nearer the Gods was passionate, innovative and informative and the perfect inaugural play to highlight the fantastic features of the new Billie Brown Theatre. I recommend adults and schoolchildren alike would benefit from seeing the play and checking out the fantastic creative theatre space, although the lack of sufficient female toilets was frustrating, creating ridiculously lengthy queues.
In the words of the motto of the Royal Society: Nullius in verba (take nobody's word for it), you must see Nearer the Gods and the new Billie Brown theatre for yourself!