Remember when Occam showed us his razor?
This is what the Edinburgh fringe should be like. A group of students performing a musical about the history of political philosophy. If you’ve ever thought that some shows seem a bit mainstream and corporate, get and see A Theory of Justice the Musical! at C Venues. Featuring a host of thinkers from the past, DEM productions and Oxford University are putting on a fun gallop through the genesis of John Rawls’ magnum opus A Theory of Justice. Except there’s a twist that makes the whole premise more theatrical than watching a man read books in a library. Rawls travels back in time and is able to discuss his ideas with Bentham, Locke and the other big hitters of political philosophy.
The conceit that makes this possible is that the Harvard physicists have accidentally created a time vortex in the quad. That’s the sort of accident that ought to have its own musical and I hope the writers Eylon Aslan-Levy, Ramin Sabi and Tommy Peto are already on the case. Here a student that Rawls admires falls into the vortex. He follows after, driven partly by love and also the idea of getting a bit of help from his heroes with his own book. After all his arch-rival Robert Nozick – portrayed by Luke Rollason as an expert in evil laughs – is writing a very different Libertarian theory and Rawls wants to hit the shelves first.
Don’t think that you have to have majored in political philosophy to enjoy the show. No doubt if you are an expert you will find it even more funny, but even with a layman’s knowledge it is an amusing piece. There’s a dance off between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes that could have come out of 8 Mile. Rand and Nozick indulge in a scary pro-selfishness tango whilst Jeremy Bentham and his cronies are Barber Shop singers who can’t believe that their singing doesn’t add to the general happiness of society.
Introduced as ‘Coming all the way from Athens,’ Socrates is the earliest thinker Rawls meets. He is playfully portrayed as a puppet by Jacob Page, his puppet master a controlling Plato who is keen to drum up trade for his upcoming lectures. Once Plato’s beard has been premiered you would think that nothing more could be said on the subject. However co-writer Tommy Peto wears an even more shocking facial excrescence whilst giving an entertaining performance as a mad Karl Marx. I’d like to quote some of his statements but they whizzed past too quickly. You’ll have to go to hear them yourself. Alexander Wickens as John Rawls leads the young cast with precision, whilst Rosalind Isaacs’ as the embodiment of Fairness sings charmingly as she is pursued by Rawls and falls instead for Frenchman. Or was he Swiss?
If you want realism then Rawls looks about thirty years younger than the fifty he would have been in 1971. And John Locke probably wasn’t a woman. But who wants realism when you can have fun. And Justice. Could A Theory of Justice have been performed when all the protagonists were alive? It’s doubtful Kant would have liked his portrayal as a German drag queen, although as a look for a philosopher it would certainly help to get media attention. Ayn Rand doesn’t come out looking like a saint, but that’s nothing new. Aristotle’s brief appearance sounds lunatic, muttering something about the temperature of women’s blood, but as he died in 322BC I imagine the statute of limitations makes it far too late for him or his descendants to sue.
Being able to enjoy works so unlikely as A Theory of Justice the musical is why the Edinburgh fringe is such a great festival. This isn’t dry, studious humour, but philosophy with a smile on its face, doing the conga through history. If you’ve ever thought I’d like more singing with my philosophy this one’s for you.