Hamlet, philosophy, temptation, indulgences (the paid for kind), Banksy rats, coffee and the quill. Welcome to Wittenberg, Germany, 1517, and Red Stitch, St Kilda, 2012.
Here a young Danish prince, who looks like he’s stepped out of Brideshead Revisited, discusses life (or not), the universe and salvation with his university professors John Faustus and Martin Luther, who, despite the odd disagreement, are best mates who regularly enjoy a tankard together.
Sub-titled as a tragical-comical-historical in two acts, David Davalos’s 2008 play is a post-modern-ish mash up of philosophy, literature, university politics and the Protestant Reformation. What more do you need to know!?
If you think it sounds like it’s written by a nerdy clever dick who’s read far too many books, you’re spot on. This is the kind of play that justifies doing philosophy at uni, reading old plays and getting As for history in high school. So if you’re a nerdy clever dick with a few spare degrees, this is wrtten for you – and you’ll still miss some of the jokes because you’ll still be laughing from the last barrage of witty wordplay and literary lampooning.
If you’re not? Don’t worry because Wittenberg is so damn funny that you’ll feel like you know it all anyway.
It’s similar to Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (enjoyable without knowing Hamlet – but it helps if you do), but far broader and more contemporary. But it helps if you know Hamlet and at least one of the Dr Fs. Or there’s this study guide from the premier production by Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company.
In the wrong hands, Wittenberg could be an obnoxious self-important bore of play, but director Jane Montgomery Griffiths ensures that the humour’s as base as Luther’s thank-you-god poo and banishes any hints of academic stuffiness – and still makes a ‘publish or perish’ joke work.
Ezra Bix (Faustus), Josh Price (Luther), Brett Ludeman (Hamlet) and Olga Makeeva (the chicks) are simply hilarious. Their grand, historic and tragic characters are anything by grand, historic or tragic. Hamlet’s a bit thick and anxious but full of hope, Luther doesn’t know what reformation means, and Faustus is reasonably content and has a regular gig singing at the local tavern. It’s a bit like hearing the Queen fart; no pomp, ceremony or memorial tea set can restore the grandeur and they’re far more loveable for being seen as human.