“A Theory of Justice: The Musical.” One imagines that the transcript of its conception mirrored that of a group of drunk teenagers negotiating the theft of a traffic cone:
“This is going to be hilarious!”
“We’re absolutely mental, aren’t we?”
“I know, we are, we’re just mental.”
Like much of the petty crime in Oxford, A Theory of Justice: The Musical is the brainchild of a few PPE students. Condensing centuries of political philosophy into one hammy musical, the play follows liberal philosopher, John Rawls on a journey into a magical world of philosophy that defines – as well as defies – all logic. Encountering Socrates and his dummy, Plato, and a lobby of Utilitarians, he chases his Muse, Fairness, through dark and enlightened ages – all the while, pursued by the dastardly libertarian, Robert Nozick.
The play takes an interesting approach to some of the writers that it satirises, and isn’t afraid to take the show in a farcical direction.
The writing sometimes suffers from a smugness, revelling in its own comedic wit, but this might be the fault of the delivery which, at times, is too self-aware. The performers seem to be waiting for the ‘bum dum bum tssh’ of an imagined drum kit, so that the joke is anticipated before its even out of the actors’ mouths. However, when executed correctly, the cheesy jokes can be rather charming. (Admittedly, it takes a while to be fully initiated into the premise.)
Though the musical incorporates a variety of different musical styles (from cabaret to gospel, through the decidedly more hazardous styles of hard rock and rap), it has the feel of a 21st century Broadway musical and requires a strong cast of trained singers. Thankfully, it is a cast made up of incredible voices. A mention must go to David Wigley, who plays (among other roles) Immanuel Kant, as Rawls’ “deontological fairy godmother”, dressed in drag with a thick German accent. His vocal performance raises hairs on the back of the neck, even in the modest rehearsal space. Put in the O’Reilly with all the technical works of the production behind it, his performance should be a high point of the show.
The cast is a motley crew of singers and actors, and each one is identifiable as one or the other. The directorial team, Esmé Hicks and Robert Natzler, are convinced that – after some more training and rehearsals – the difference should be almost indistinguishable. Given some weaknesses in the cast, this seems a little ambitious.
Members of the production and marketing team are adamant that it will be accessible to political philosophers and punters alike. Producer, Ramin Sabi, describes their ticket-sales as “unprecendented”. Group bookings that include schools, societies and universities have certainly helped hack away at that breakeven figure. Already a sell-out show, the producers have clearly got it right – artistic merit be damned.
To be fair, it’s quite endearing, and a lot of thought has gone into it. It’s just a musical, standing in front of Oxford, asking to be loved. So if you like Aristotle, jokes you could grate on your bolognese and soulful musical numbers that rhyme “phenomenal” with “nominal”, this musical will be right up your street.
A Theory of Justice: The Musical opens in the O’Reilly Theatre, Keble College, at 7.30pm, 30th January.
Tickets are now completely sold out for all five nights. There is a waiting list available.
PHOTO/ Carl Turpie