Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

18/10/2014 - 15/11/2014

Production Details


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.

“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 

CIRCA Theatre Two, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
18 October – 15 November
Tues – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
TICKETS: $46/38/25
$25 PREVIEW: Friday 17th & Sunday 19th October
BOOKINGS: 04 801 7992 or

Alex Greig – Actor / A dying man called Sam
Andrew Paterson – Isaac Newton
Neenah Dekkers-Reihana – Catherine Storer
Todd Rippon – Robert Hooke

Music – Rhian Sheehan
Lighting Design – Jennifer Lal
Set Designer – William Duignan
Costume Designer – Sasha Tilly
Stage Manager & Technical Operator – Ashlyn Smith
Publicity – Brianne Kerr
Graphic Design – Rose Miller
Photography – Paul McLaughlin
Box Office – Linda Wilson
FOH Manager – Suzanne Blackburn

A provocative peep into Newton’s mind

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st Oct 2014

“The fictional biographer,” wrote Tom Stoppard, “is a biographer who tells the truth without being enthralled by the facts.” So it is with American playwright Lucas Hnath whose highly entertaining play about the rivalry between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke plays fast and loose with the facts.

Isaac’s Eye in many ways resembles Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus in which he elaborated upon the myth that Salieri did away with the bumptious upstart Mozart.

In Hnath’s play the upstart is the ambitious Newton, eager to be famous and admitted to The Royal Society. While the established genius of the times, the now largely forgotten Robert Hooke, who has been described as England’s Leonardo, warily watches and attends Newton’s scary experiments on light by sticking a pin into his own tear duct.

There is a love story of sorts between Newton and his Catherine and some sexual rivalry as well as some vicious blackmailing, all of which, as the storyteller tells us, are just little lies to help us see something that’s difficult to see, but not as difficult apparently, as Newton seeing into the mind of God.

However, Hnath has it both ways because when a true story is told about either man it is eventually acknowledged by the storyteller and all-purpose actor (energetically played by Alex Greig), who records it in chalk on the wall of the set, amongst the scientific drawings and scrawls and outline of London.

Unlike Amadeus, Isaac’s Eye the language of the play is modern vernacular so one has to get used to everyone sounding like vociferous 20 year-olds Americans. The setting is minimalist and the costumes are contemporary and white which gives the impression, unintentionally I presume, that the events are taking place in a mental institution rather than a Cambridgeshire farm house.

Paul McLaughlin’s direction is inventive, amusing and beautifully paced, except when the playwright drifts for a brief period in the second act.  All four actors (Todd Rippon as Hooke, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana as Catherine, Andrew Paterson as Newton, and Alex Greig) are in great form. An unusual, engaging and provocative piece of post-modern theatre.


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Thoroughly engaging if somewhat ethereal

Review by John Smythe 19th Oct 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.


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