Standing Up for Freedom

Mon 18th February 2013

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 10:29 on 19th Feb 2013

0agrees

1disagrees

Because of the title of the show - ‘Standing Up for Freedom’ - and the free glass of wine on entry to the atmospheric Bierkeller Theatre, I was under the impression that I’d be witnessing an edgy, clever exploration of the concept of freedom with a comic twist. Matthew Hammond’s label as a stand-up philosopher only fuelled my expectations further as philosopher’s themselves are known to be hilariously witty, often coming up with life-changing thoughts after evenings of drunken ramblings. What I was unaware of however, was the literal translation of ‘stand-up’, a definition I was to know well by the end of the evening causing me to leave my preconceived hopes dwindling after the first 10 minutes.

However, let’s not jump the gun. There’s no doubt that Matthew Hammond is passionate about his work. Indeed, his intellect and energy surrounding the concept of freedom appears to be abundant throughout the show. His determination to take his audience on what can only be described as a haphazard journey through the centuries of philosophy shows his dedication to his craft; we were exposed to the likes of Foucault, Nietzsche, Kant, Rousseau and Plato, a span of 2500 years in the space of 2 hours. However, there were a number of times when his passion seemed to run away with him, leaving him tripping over words as his mouth sought to catch hold of what his brain was thinking. Unfortunately, this lack of synchronisation between thought and speech was to continue throughout the show, causing many of the 8 strong audience to flinch as another phrase was halted and jarred.

In addition, his ‘theatrical’ performances of the said philosophers were not very original. I put ‘theatrical’ in inverted commas because I was uncertain as to whether his depictions of these men can really be considered as dramatic art. Rather, they bore a strong resemblance to one another, all suffering from choking speeches which seemed to suggest over-done scripting. Instead of continuing seamlessly when he used one word instead of another, Hammond went back to the desired word, causing an awkward repeat of himself. Indeed, I don’t feel like Hammond went far enough in differentiating the characters he wished to present from his own persona on stage. It seemed like each philosopher shared a similar nervous tick where, whilst smiling, they made a small ‘hmph’ noise to themselves with their eyes cast down, an action I can only attribute to the limited acting ability of Hammond himself. Apart from a variety of hat changes, the characterisation felt repetitive and straining, unfortunately reducing the impact of the unarguably interesting discussions.

I don’t wish to degrade the power of philosophy or the intriguing debate that Hammond appeared to discuss, but as a dramatic piece of story-telling and spoken word the whole performance fell flat. Just under 2 hours of constant talk of philosophy made the whole thing feel slightly like an unwanted evening lecture, despite the attempts at hilarity and different personas. All in all, Hammond couldn’t help but refer more than once to a jaded shrill cockney voice which, I noted, was used to depict the ignorance of Neitzche’s servant boy as well as the profound intellect of Raphael when speaking to Thomas More.

I think it’s safe to say that Hammond’s power as a writer of philosophy remains his strength, a strength I feel is unfortunately but unarguably weakened by his attempt to transfer his knowledge onto stage. He would be best sticking to academic writing and articles as I feel that this is where his words and passion can be most truly felt. When depicted on stage, the result is an awkward, eccentric, mis-communicated mish-mash of high philosophy and poor acting. Admittedly, his language at times was indeed poetic and moving but it was difficult to appreciate this because of the bizarre props, costumes and voices employed by Hammond the actor. Quite simply it was a one man show attempting to throw us through a timeline of famous philosophers with the help of an assortment of hats and a soon-to-be-familiar cockney voice. A crazy evening but not one worth paying for.

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Comments

S Wolfland; 11th Mar 2013; 19:44:13

With the greatest respect, this review makes clear that what the reviewer was expecting was quite different to the show itself. This I feel was more likely to be a result of the lack of a weblink to videos where people could check whether it was something that they thought was likely to be of interest to them or not, than anything else. Why I say this, is because Stand Up Philosophy may be misnamed, but it is not, nor intended to be, comedy, and hence anyone expecting a comic take on the subject was certainly going to be disappointed. The project of the performances (as I understand it) is to condense years of reading into extemporized (there is no script) re-creations of the ‘eureka’ moments in a series of thinker’s thought processes, from memory and interpreted (in part at least, and for the benefit of accessibility) via storytelling (a quite different art to that of straight acting) and also interpreted slightly differently each time, as ‘live thinking’ or thought-in-action. \r\n Moreover it was not the case that the few people in the audience at the evening covered in the review were all of one mind, as three at least (of those who stayed on afterwards to talk) were very complimentary, and one said it made him want to read books which he had had no previous intention of reading. \r\n The performances are (I believe) intended as an ongoing experiment to turn philosophy into more of a live art, taking it back to something more akin to its oral roots in Ancient Greece. The performances owe more to C17th Ranters and orators than they do to comedy (or indeed straight theatre), and so the lack of more detailed info. in the brochure/website links (I would suggest) is the perhaps the explanation for the dissonance here.

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