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Written by: Lucas Hnath
Directed by: Paul McLaughlin
With music by Rhian Sheehan
New Zealand Premiere
SEX, DRUGS AND SCIENCE IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY!
Isaac’s Eye re-imagines the contentious, plague-ravaged world in which the young Isaac Newton and established scientist Robert Hooke are a Mozart and Salieri of science squabbling over the physics of light.
Isaac Newton is desperate to gain admittance to the prodigious Royal Society. One man stands in his way – the evil Robert Hooke. What is the price of success for Isaac? Will he expose the dark secrets Hooke hides, will he risk blinding himself in the ultimate power play for dominance, truth and scientific discovery in this theatrical experience you’ll never forget!
Far from a stuffy costume drama, Isaac’s Eye is original in its presentation, contemporary in its tone, fast-paced and very bloody funny with an exciting, fresh line up of actors. Lucas Hnath is the hottest young writer in the UK right now and Circa bring you the NZ premiere of this daring new play.
“This play made me laugh;” says director Paul McLaughlin. Hnath’s text is brutally funny – he’s created a delightful work of fiction/fact that will delight and intrigue audiences … and how do they do that thing with the needle …?”
With a cinematic soundscape from Wellington’s Rhian Sheenhan, Isaac’s Eye occupies its own time and space as it explores the dreams and longings that drove the rural farm boy Isaac Newton to become one of the greatest thinkers in modern science.
Come see that story live with us at Circa.
Starring Todd Rippon, Andrew Paterson, Alex Greig, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana
18 October − 15 November
Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Circa Anniversary/Guy Fawkes’ Fireworks Night: Saturday, 8 November 7pm performance time
Friends of Circa (until 2 November) $33
Groups 6+ $39 20+ $36
Under 25s $25
Thoroughly engaging if somewhat ethereal
BY JOHN SMYTHE, THEATREVIEW, 19 OCTOBER 2014
Billed in publicity as “the hottest young writer in the UK right now”, American playwright Lucas Hnath likes to play at playmaking and this time, as produced by a totally onto it team directed by Paul McLaughlin, it works. In performance, at least,Isaac’s Eye is hugely entertaining.
Whereas I found only pointless perversity in Hnath’s A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about The Death of Walt Disney at Circa a couple of months ago, perversity may be seen as the point in Isaac’s Eye. Oh: an unintended pun there, given the role of a needle in the drama. But to say more about that would be a spoiler, so I’ll let it stand (which it does). Except to add that, the way Hnath tells it, it was hearing about the needle incident that provoked his enquiry into – and imagining of – what would possess a man to do such a thing, and led to his writing the play.
The primary perversity is that although the imagined encounters between a young Isaac Newton, his friend and would-be wife Catherine Storer, and the more established and respected scientist Robert Hooke took place in the 17th century – circa the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London (1666) – the characters present as 21st century New Zealanders. This is a conceit that works very well.
Then there is the narrating Actor who tells us the play is full of ether because Newton knew, or thought he knew, there was ether everywhere. And even though that theory was wrong, it allowed him to postulate and prove things that turned out to be right. Which is also true of the play, the Actor says – and to help us distinguish fact from fiction, he will write only true things on the wall. Plenty remains unwritten.
The blackboard walls are, I presume, prescribed in the script and set designer William Duignan has chalked up an evocative blend of bookshelves, drawers, equipment, scientific diagrams and equations, and a rural scene with a modern city in the background, upon which more graphic imagery is projected from time to time – all cleverly made prominent or otherwise, as required, by Jennifer Lal’s splendid lighting design. We are in Isaac’s home in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, although he would rather be in London.
Costume designer Sasha Tilly has dressed them in contemporary clothes which are predominantly white, the most significant change being when Catherine comes into her own (or does she?). Along with the actors using their own unadulterated voices, the music of Nelson composer Rhian Sheehan brings it all home.
What Isaac wants most at this point in his life is to be admitted to The Royal Society and he wants Robert Hooke to nominate him. Much has been made of Newton and Hooke being “the Mozart and Salieri of science” and indeed Andrew Paterson’s beautifully nuanced personification of Isaac as a brilliant but self-absorbed precocious prat is wickedly entertaining, especially when he responds wordlessly to audience reactions.
Todd Rippon’s Robert Hooke is astutely crafted to present much more than just a jealous rival. Although his desire to suppress this young talent is clear, there is cogent scientific rigour in the challenges he issues to Isaac. Later, Hooke’s rationalisation of his sex addiction as legitimate scientific enquiry escalates the perversity quotient to perversion – not that he commits the act he cannot help but imagine.
As Catherine, the local apothecary, 10 years older than Isaac but friends with him since childhood, now feeling she is growing even older while Isaac regresses in age, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana brings a well-grounded truth to the play. Her scene-to-scene responses to the self-centred men becomes the most compelling element for me.
Holding it all together, and delivering a poignant portrait of a man called Sam who is dying from the Plague, is Alex Greig. Splendidly dynamic in acquitting himself of the roles, he does launch into it as if intimate Circa Two was the St James but soon settles into a real relationship with us. His ebullience is infectious.
Along with a struggle of science to gain traction in a Bible-fearing nation, there are human foibles, vulnerabilities and moral dilemmas aplenty, culminating in a blackmailing competition, to keep us riveted to Isaac’s Eye as Hnath’s playfulness plays out. What I have yet to see is what it’s about that’s bigger than itself; what Hnath’s greater purpose is in writing this play. But of course he lets himself off the proverbial hook by declaring it’s “full of ether” and riddled with untruths.
So it’s ‘real’ meaning is, I guess, in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps all he has set out to prove is how inexact science can be. However you take it, McLaughlin and co have ensured you’ll be thoroughly engaged for two hours at least.
“A quirky sendup of fusty historical dramas… funky, stylized, but distinctly contemporary. Isaac’s Eye wins a whole mess of points for originality.” –The New York Times
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (including interval)
Contains Adult Themes and Language.
Join us for our 20th Anniversary Celebration of our waterfront building!
On 5 November, 1994, the new Circa building on the waterfront opened with a performance of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. This year, we’re celebrating 20 years of fantastic theatre in this building with a night of brilliant theatre followed by a glass of bubbly while watching a wonderful fireworks display over the harbour! (Ok, the fireworks are for Guy Fawkes Night, but we’ll pretend they’re for us since this is such a great spot to watch them from.)
– Saturday, 8 November
– Attend a performance of The Pitmen Painters at 6.30pm or Isaac’s Eye at 7pm
– Stick around after for a complimentary drink and nibbles (hold onto your show ticket from the evening!), and then watch the fireworks from our prime location on the waterfront
Booking in advance is recommended: visitwww.circa.co.nz or call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992