John Rawls's A THEORY OF JUSTICE: THE MUSICAL!

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Megan Stodel

at 18:36 on 3rd Aug 2013

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‘A Theory of Justice: the Musical’ follows Rawls (Alexander Wickens) as he journeys through time, meeting an assortment of philosophers as he pursues Fairness (Rosalind Isaacs) and formulates his, well, theory of justice. Although it has its flaws, this is an intelligent and up-beat production and the writing is generally good.

The variety of the musical numbers is impressive and made even better by the ways in which they cleverly complement the philosophies and philosophers. For example, a group of Utilitarians sing in the perfect harmony of a barbershop quartet (undoubtedly one of the best scenes), while Hobbes (Florence Brady) and Locke (Claudia Freemantle) fight it out in a rap battle. It’s also a fun notion to have Socrates (Jacob Page) merely a ventriloquist’s dummy controlled by Plato (Sam Ereira). This makes the ideas more engaging, which would certainly be helpful for anybody unfamiliar with philosophy. Otherwise, the speed at which theories are rattled through could make following ‘A Theory of Justice’ a daunting prospect for someone who doesn’t know their Aristotle from their elbow. The music was played fantastically by a live band; I particularly noticed Tom Davidson’s skilled trumpeting, but all the musicians were brilliant.

The main problem with the musical is that it is too long. An hour and forty minutes is a significant length for something showing at the Fringe, and I suspect some easy cuts could have been made. There were a number of self-indulgent solos and unnecessary reprises that had me checking my watch. In the revelatory scene towards the end, when Kant (David Wigley) implored Rawls, “Get there sooner!” I couldn’t have agreed more.

Luckily, a solid ensemble prevented the endless numbers becoming too tiresome. The chorus (most of whom took on larger parts at various points) were particularly impressive and each of them managed to portray individuality without stealing the scenes. I felt that they were stronger than Wickens and Isaacs, who seemed more comfortable singing than acting. However, Luke Rollason made a fantastic Nozick, fulfilling the role of the bad guy excellently. His accomplice (or inspiration) Ayn Rand (Clare Joyce) was similarly ominous, though sometimes it was hard to understand her.

This was partly due to sound issues, as the accompanying music was often louder than the singers. Perhaps this is something that can be adjusted in later performances. On another technical note, lighting effects were overused and distracting.

‘A Theory of Justice’ is entertaining and will no doubt appeal to those with some knowledge of philosophy without irreparably alienating newbies. If it was half an hour shorter, this would have been well on its way to excellence.

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Kate Wilkinson

at 08:52 on 4th Aug 2013

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Probably the most unashamedly intellectual musical ever written, ‘A Theory of Justice- the Musical!’ is based on eminent philosopher John Rawls’ seminal text. Given Rawl’s focus on rational thought, the content seemed to contradict the medium somewhat, since a musical works through emotion, but this was all part of the fun. While prior knowledge of the theorist is not necessary to enjoy the show (I for one hadn’t even heard of the man and spent a long while thinking that he was a fictional character- the shame!) a general knowledge of political philosophy would be helpful to appreciate the nuances of the script. So do your homework!

Accessibility issues aside, the creators of this show have done a superb job in making what could be very dry material, a thoroughly fun and entertaining musical. The songs were a mixed bag, with some more catchy than others; although the key theme is still in my head and the band played beautifully throughout. The singing talent was high and the cast were capable of a real range of styles. The jazzy a cappella group of utilitarians was a highlight. At times, however, the fast-paced and sophisticated lyrics were somewhat drowned out by the music.

As the leading man, Alexander Wickens gave a solid vocal performance and his intense American earnestness was just about off-set by a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. The love interest and leading lady, bizarrely named ‘Fairness’ by Rawls, was played with aplomb by Rosalind Isaacs who displayed a great vocal range. Other stand-out performances came from the David Wigley who played Kant in fabulous drag. James Skinner as Rousseau was equally entertaining. As the villain Nozick, Luke Rollason was charismatic and provided much of the humour.

Each cast member displayed boundless enthusiasm and there were countless fun moments, each scene moving quickly to keep the audience’s attention. I particularly enjoyed the women’s rights song. Given the intention to include the female voice in the overwhelmingly white, male story of the history of philosophy, some of the plot decisions were strange. Fairness’ driving motivation was finding her ‘Philosopher King’ whereas, of course, Rawls was driven by the pursuit of knowledge! Having Fairness’ name decided by Rawls is also problematic as she seems to have no real identity beyond her relation to Rawls.

It is best not to take this show too seriously since thankfully it doesn’t seem to take itself seriously either. Feminist misgivings aside, ‘A Theory of Justice- the Musical’ is an entertaining and thoroughly original new show.

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Comments

Ashley Chhibber; 7th Aug 2013; 18:39:50

As a piece of pure theatre or even literature, this production has flaws; as a musical, it is fantastically good. Following the very slow start - i.e. from the point at which the philosophy begun - I enjoyed every minute: the 'Theory of Justice' song is still stuck in my head.

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