“Philosophy, but not as you know it”
If I asked you to suggest an evening’s thrilling entertainment, I doubt many would respond with irrepressible cries of a race through more than 2000 years of political philosophy. This, however, is Oxford’s latest theatrical offering (only in Oxford, as the cliché goes) promising to combine the theories of influential philosophers with the feel-good songs, exuberant dance, and unapologetic
camp fluffiness that musicals revel in. If philosophy means giant dusty old tomes to you, prepare to have your mind blown in some
kind of pseudo-philosophical paradox.
A Theory of Justice: The Musical follows John Rawls into the time vortex as he searches for answers to his life’s work on Justice, while being both in
hot pursuit of his love interest in the form of attractive student Fairness, and in vivid conflict with his arch-enemy Robert Nozick. Along the way, he breaks into singing dialogue with a whole sequence of philosophers, the style of each giving to the scene its own distinct genre. The genres range wildly: we have a sizzling tango with Rawls and Fairness, a saucy cabaret piece and a trip to a gay club run by Plato the ventriloquist with his effeminate Socrates as doll (that’s a philosophy in-joke there). Even those dreary Victorian Utilitarians get a make-over as a slick barbershop quartet. It’s no joke that Philosophy in-jokes do dominate, but I can assure you that the humour will have everyone laughing. The philosophers will be those noticeable for their giggles continuing a moment or two longer than everyone else.
This is a musical, I hear you say, so where are the spectacles? Pretty much every scene, really. And if that’s not sufficient, prepare to be dazzled by the time vortex, which has demanded the O’Reilly’s biggest lighting budget
ever. In fact, everything you’d expect in a musical is here, from the character stereotypes to the dance. One thing that particularly impressed me is that all of the musical score is original – there’s no amateur business going on here, pinching music from existing musicals and writing philosophical lyrics to it.
Having filled this space with my enthusiasm for the concept, I should say something of the acting: everything I saw was top-notch. I would urge all you non-philosophers to give this intriguing performance a go; and, as for you philosophers, well, you have no excuse!