Wittenberg, Germany: home in its time to philosopher Dr John Faustus, theologian Martin Luther and Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark. But what if all three were there at the same time?
That’s the premise of Red Stitch’s latest production, Wittenberg, a ‘Tragical Comical Historical in two acts’. As actor Josh Price explains, the three very powerful but very different men find themselves thrust together at Wittenberg University in 1517.
“The characters were all at Wittenberg at some point – in the case of Faustus and Luther as professors, and Hamlet attended as a student. The play imagines them all at Wittenberg university just before the Catholic reformation and the beginnings of protestantism, instigated by Luther’s condemnation of the practices of the Catholic church at the time,” he told the Star Observer.
“Luther, the theology professor is trying to persuade Hamlet to dedicate his life to the Christian faith whilst Faustus, the philosophy professor is trying to lead him down the path of reason. That sounds about as entertaining as chalk, but its actually a very funny, bawdy play.”
Price plays Luther, and admitted the character’s fervent religious beliefs had initially provided a barrier to getting under his skin.
“I have no religious leanings whatsoever, so that’s been the biggest barrier between me and Luther, but the play that [writer David] Davalos has written has done a lot of the work for me. I simply have to believe in Luther’s words and his good intentions and hopefully the audience will too. I have come to admire Luther in a funny way throughout this process,” he said.
Jane Montgomery Griffiths returns to Red Stitch for her directorial debut with Wittenberg, leading a cast that includes ensemble members Olga Makeeva as the Eternal Feminine and Brett Ludeman as Hamlet, with guest actor Ezra Bix as Faustus. With Montgomery Griffiths’ formidable experience as an actor, director and academic, she was keeping the cast on their toes, Price said.
“She has such a sharp intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the all the textual references in the play. But also bags full of fun and completely anarchic. She’s really encouraged us to find the humour and the ‘ridiculous’ in the play, so I think its going to be a real treat for the audience.”
And while it might be set centuries ago, the central theme of the play – that of reason vs. religion – will certainly resonate with today’s audiences.
“Religion is such a hot topic at the moment, particularly with the Christian right butting their unwanted heads into political matters. The play shines a direct light on the problem with the institutions of the Catholic church, which as we know are prone to corruption,” said Price.
“The play doesn’t question the need for faith or religion as such but more the need for all the bullshit that surrounds that core faith.”
INFO: Wittenberg, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, October 5-November 3. www.redstitch.net