What's On: Nearer The Gods (Queensland Theatre)

Rhys Muldoon, who will play the role of Isaac Newton, with playwright David Williamson. Photographed by Jono Searle.

Where? The brand new Bille Brown Theatre! 78 Montague Rd, South Brisbane
When? October 6 – November 3
Tickets: Available via queenslandtheatre.com.au or by calling 1800 355 528

Queensland Theatre will christen the newly redesigned Bille Brown Theatre, including Brisbane’s first corner stage, with the world premiere season of David Williamson’s Nearer the Gods, introducing Brisbane audiences to Isaac Newton on the verge of his greatest scientific discovery. Directed by QT Artistic Director Sam Strong and featuring a cast of stars from the Australian stage and screen, Nearer the Gods is a work about the dynamics of human nature as much as it is the true story of how one of the single greatest leaps forward in understanding our universe almost never happened.

“Edmund Halley of Halley’s Comet fame realised that Isaac Newton was the only man in the world brilliant enough to crack the mystery of gravitation, but there was a problem. Newton was unhinged by delusions of grandeur and an implacable hatred of his nemesis Robert Hooke. Halley and his wife Mary had to find a way to coax him back to the main game,” said playwright, David Williamson.  

This is a fascinating and blackly funny study of how the deep and ancient emotional impulses urging us to attain power, and status, and to belittle and vanquish our rivals, can be at odds with our advanced capacity for logical reason,” Williamson said. “You see the opposing forces at work every day in the jugular political and business worlds.”

Queensland Theatre Artistic Director and director of Nearer the Gods, Sam Strong, with playwright David Williamson. Photographed by Jono Searle.
“David uses this fascinating historical moment to tell an urgent story about how even the noblest ideas are not above corruption by our baser instincts,” Director Sam Strong said. “The opening of the New Bille Brown Theatre is an epochal moment in the history of Queensland Theatre so it’s fitting that we open it with Nearer the Gods.”

Williamson said the play had been in the back of his mind since his university days, as the first mechanical engineering graduate from Monash University. “Newton’s laws were the foundation of everything we learned, and I was astounded and awed at how one man took us from total ignorance of the laws of the universe to an almost complete understanding in one giant leap, Williamson said. “One of the truly great geniuses of all time.”

“But when I started researching him I found to my amazement that but for Edmund Halley, who drew him back from delusions that God had chosen him to reveal his plan for humankind, to solving the problem that no one else could, mankind’s single most significant leap forward in knowledge may never have happened.  My playwright’s instinct was what a great story.  Everything in the play, based on a great amount of research, either happened or could have happened.  The actual sources are sparse, so some conjecture was necessary. Nothing to my knowledge is not plausible.” 

The cast of Nearer the Gods includes Matthew Backer (Switzerland) as Edmund Halley, much-loved Queenslander William McInnes (SeaChange, Time of our Lives) as King Charles II, and Rhys Muldoon (House Husbands) as Isaac Newton. Joining them onstage will be Daniel Murphy, Hugh Parker (The 39 Steps),  Colin Smith (An Octoroon, Twelfth Night), Lucas Stibbard (Hoges, Wanted)Hsiao-Ling Tang (Rice), and Kimie Tsukakoshi (The Family Law, Secret City).

Nearer the Gods star Rhys Muldoon at the launch of Queensland Theatre's 2018 season. Photographed by Jono Searle

Sam Strong said that, with the complete redesign and complete makeover supported by the Queensland Government’s Arts Infrastructure Fund and generous donors, would allow audiences to experience theatre in the most comfortable and engaged way. “The new Bille Brown Theatre is state-of-the-art. Actors will be never more than a very short distance away, giving an intimacy and immediacy to the performance like never before, creating a great communal experience.”  

“Australia’s newest theatre will have the best actor-audience relationship in the country and Brisbane’s famously responsive audiences will now be closer to the performers and a more active part of the experience than ever before.  Finally, we’ve assembled a top shelf cast who are relishing David’s instinct for comedy and drama as well as the chance to bring some of history’s biggest characters and grandest ideas to life.”