06 October - 03 November
Bille Brown Theatre, Queensland TheatreBuy tickets
In a nutshell
David Williamson meets Isaac Newton on the verge of his greatest scientific discovery
Isaac Newton’s laws of motion are the foundation of countless human advancements. This is the story of how one of the greatest moments of scientific illumination almost didn’t happen.
It’s 1684, the dawn of the Enlightenment. Bright young astronomer Edmund Halley must somehow wrangle the secrets of the universe from the brain of fickle and contrary Isaac Newton. At the same time he must wrestle with his faith and risk his home, family and reputation to find the money and means to share this beautiful, powerful theory with the world at large.
For all the celestial bodies and scientific laws named after them, it’s easy to think of our 17th Century giants of science as infallible geniuses. But here are our most powerful minds laid bare: riddled with self-doubt, squabbling over fame, and ensconced in bitter intellectual rivalries.
Beloved playwright David Williamson brings us a gripping and blackly funny drama about ideas that would change the world. The all-star cast includes Matthew Backer (Switzerland), William McInnes (SeaChange, Time of our Lives) and Rhys Muldoon (House Husbands).
David Williamson: Playwright's Note
There are some human achievements that breathtaking in their impact. When I was at Monash University becoming, without huge enthusiasm, its first mechanical engineering graduate, the only thing that left a lasting impression was the brilliance of Isaac Newton, whose laws underpinned everything we were taught.
In one huge leap he took us from almost total ignorance, to a complete understanding of the laws that govern the motion of the Universe. It left me with a feeling of awe at the mind that made such a breakthrough.
But a play? I hadn’t thought of it until I started reading about how it all happened. I found, to my amazement, that but for Edmund Halley, of Halley’s comet fame, the greatest leap forward in human knowledge we’ve ever been gifted would never have happened. And he couldn’t have done it without the assistance of his wife Mary’s keen mind.
Newton might have been brilliant but he was also quite mad. And the mutual hatred between he and Robert Hooke, a scientist who couldn’t bear the thought someone was brighter than he was, almost derailed the whole thing.
This story wasn’t just about a great scientific breakthrough, it was about an inescapable human dilemma. While the advanced parts of our brain are capable of rational thought at the highest level, our deep and powerful reptilian brainstem urges us to attain power and status at all costs. To belittle, crush and vanquish our rivals.
Watching the antics of our political elites over the last ten years we can see clearly how often and easily those ancient impulses override our tendencies towards rationality and decency. Those who have worked in the corporate world are sure to have seen similar scenarios.
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.
Nearer the Gods is about brilliance and bastardry. The toxic disconnect between our highest and basest potentials. The better angels of our nature always in danger of being ripped down by the crocodile lurking in our brainstem.
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