Monday, 4 February 2013

The 'Standing Up for Freedom' Show

I have always loved Philosophy. Even while finishing my 'A' Levels, and asked what I planned to study, I replied that (while English and Drama seemed on the cards) I was much tempted by Philosophy, much to my drama teacher's horror! (In the end I did Writing and Philosophy.) But a full show tracing the evolution of a single concept? The history of the very idea of 'freedom'? Now that, I thought, would be really something! And so it was. Last night, in the Northcott Theatre Bar, on an intimate stage, played in and out by Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos, Matthew Hammond the Stand Up Philosopher presented his new full length show 'Standing Up for Freedom' - and it was frankly brilliant. Cicero, Kant, Marx, Socrates, Neitzsche, Foucault, and Thomas More's Utopia all featured, along with Hegel, Rousseau and Deleuze. From Kant's paradoxical speech making us wonder if he is the most radical or reactionary? To Neitzsche's hilarious skit on the Kant, from Marx's impassioned critique of how industrialized society was/has evolved, to Alcibiades' spilling the beans on love, we were treated to a rip roaring rollercoaster ride through Western thought and the whole idea of freedom - individual freedom, freedom within a state, freedom given by others or freedom lent by perspective, the many faceted crystal of it all was explored and polished up to shine anew in a scintillating, and sometimes extraordinary new light. Having laughed at Rousseau's dandyism or Hegel's quirky snuff-taking, been foxed by Foucault's twist at the end or swept up on a desire to see Utopia, we then ended with the Trial of Socrates, that key moment in the founding of Western philosophy - and it was as moving, funny, poignant, eye-opening, devastating and beautiful as Plato himself could have wished. We roared our lines (as the audience played the people of both Konigsberg and Athens) and delivered the sentance, and then it was time for the music to play out...and as the Stand Up Philosopher took his bows, there were a few questions from the floor, and then it was time to get drinks and folks bought books (and my Philosopher's Oracle Boxes too!), we caught up with lovely friends who had come, and of course mingled with the rest of the audience, who did not at all appear to think that an hour and a half of philosophy was too much! People said how well it worked having the unifying narrative of tracing one idea, how it was better to engage with than only as short pieces on a mixed bill (excellent though they are), asked when and where they could see him perform again, sounded enthusiastic about the idea of further shows on different themes...all in all, it was a very successful evening, Matthew performing really well, with well-timed changes of jacket and hat, and some great (but not distracting) props, leaving folks wanting more... The lighting was very good, the back of the stage in red, a spotlight to the fore, and all around a purple wash alternating with dark blue, the Theatre Bar a deliciously intimate setting (packed!), with circular tables all candlelit. It definitely proved that philosophy and theatre mix well, that knowledge, and ideas can be presented as performance art, that ideas, in the right hands, CAN be brought truly alive, and without compromising their meanings.

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