Wittenberg is a play that examines the struggle between theology and philosophy. We are positioned along with Hamlet (in his younger years) in the centre of the action, caught between reason and religion. David Davalos’ text is a dense one. Western literature is referenced relentlessly, creating a post-modern structure based on citations of classical concepts, characters and quotations.
Richard Hilliar’s direction is confident and precise. He places equal emphasis on dramatics and content, ensuring a show that appeals intellectually and is also fabulously entertaining. Hilliar does his best to make sense of the lines, which are frequently academic and cerebral, and while some of us might find it challenging to absorb everything, the direction succeeds in keeping us engaged at all times.
Design elements of the production are simple, elegant and effective. The set in particular, works well with the space and the performers. Lighting is creative but also unintrusive. It is a pleasure to see the Old Fitzroy stage given some three-dimensionality and lightness.
Performances are consistently strong, and all actors seem to be very thoroughly rehearsed. Intentions are clear, and their control over their tricky lines are very accomplished. David Woodland’s performance however, is completely show stealing. His portrayal of John Faustus is charismatic, committed and irresistibly convincing. He has a fearless approach that effervesces unceasingly, and he resonates strongly at every turn. We hear his points of view clearly, and we empathise with his vulnerabilities. His co-actors are not weak by any stretch of the imagination, but the show becomes unintentionally asymmetrical in its intellectual arguments due to the overwhelming persuasiveness of one side.
Ultimately, this is not a play that seeks to change anyone’s core beliefs, but it reminds us of the other, and the values it holds close. Wittenberg is about the plurality of our existences, and the constant negotiations we endure in making sense of our daily lives.