‘It was a joy to watch a genuine relationship grow on stage’
The Soul of Wittgenstein, based in 1941, explores the relationship between John Smith, an illiterate cockney, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who volunteers as a hospital porter at Guy’s Hospital, where John is recovering.
From the off, the difference in the characters is clear; Ludwig is highly educated speaking eloquently, while John uses cockney rhyming slang. The strengths of this play are the performances of Richard Stemp (Wittgenstein) and Ben Woodhall (Smith), who manoeuvre writer Ron Elisha’s, tricky and fast paced dialogue, finding the heart in it. They tackle the language barrier between characters, a war stricken, conservative society and the class difference of the time with real humanity. It was a joy to watch a genuine relationship grow on stage.
The play brings forth interesting conversations about education vs. religion and hope vs. fact. Woodhall, in particular allows the audience to feel every emotion that John Smith feels, be it joy or heartbreak, delivering them in a beautifully understated way.
However, the play fell slightly short in a couple of minor areas. As Ludwig teaches John to read and write, their relationship appears to develop into a father/son dynamic which leads to a moment of intense intimacy. While it was a lovely moment of acting, its place in the play felt forced and slightly confused. Where usually it would have been refreshing to experience a story where homosexuality itself is not the main focal point, the play neglects the social constraints of the time making the plot feel disconnected - as if it had been plucked from a contemporary play and placed in the 1940’s.
Despite this, the play is a beautiful display of an unlikely kinship, buoyed by two funny and moving performances.
photographer credit: Lidia Crisafulli.
Presented by Another Soup in association with the King’s Head Theatre and Omnibus Theatre:
THE SOUL OF WITTGENSTEIN by Ron Elisha
Directed by Dave Spencer
Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common Northside, London, SW40QW 6 – 25 February
Reviewer Jack Albert Cook is a playwright, based in London, but originally from the sunnier climate of Newcastle Upon Tyne. He graduated from Bath Spa with a BA in Drama and an MA in Scriptwriting and his work has been performed at Bath Fringe Festival, Tristan Bates Theatre, Theatre 503 and the North Wall Arts Centre.