THEATRE / The London Fringe: Best left unsaid

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The Independent Culture
In the last few years, Ludwig Wittgenstein's position as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century has been complemented by a new status as artistic shorthand, and even straightforward substitute, for rigorous intellectualism. And a playwright who actually shoves the name up there in the title is really aiming to grab the intellectual high ground.

Whether Dic Edwards succeeds is, to be honest, not at all easy to tell: Wittgenstein's Daughter, at the White Bear in Kennington, has moments of humour and power, but overall its main effect is pure bafflement.

Alma, the heroine of the title, walks out on her marriage to a French fascist and sets out to discover her supposed roots in Cambridge. There her father's ghost, disguised in bandages, tries to persuade her that she really is his daughter, although there is no mention of her or her mother in his biographies. The truth is that Alma is not his daughter: he is only worried about his posthumous reputation, unaware that we all know by now that he was homosexual.

The playwright's name and post mortem presence are a red herring; Edwards says, in his notes on the play, that it is not about philosophy at all. It's harder to say what it is about, though. The subtitle, 'Scenes from the End of History', implies that it is partly about our relationship with history - Alma's attempt to reclaim her past, Wittgenstein's attempt to change his, resonate with her husband's pretence that the Holocaust never happened.

In his notes Edwards makes a distinction between 'apparent' language and the human language that underlies it - which I take to mean the difference between what we say and what we mean. But here, the difficulty is that Edwards has chosen a dramatic language largely inaccessible to the outsider, with the effect that the denouement - in which Alma goes into labour lying on a pile of Wittgenstein's bones - feels pointless. Robyn Moore's over-emoting Alma doesn't help, although there is a lot of pleasure in some of the other acting.

The suppression of history and homosexuality is also a central theme of Bligh: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash?, at the Etcetera in Camden. Godfrey Jackman's one-man play is an apologia for the captain of HMS Bounty, in which his tyrannical behaviour is presented as a reaction to an unhappy, repressed passion for Fletcher Christian. Put like that, it sounds silly, and indeed the sexuality is implausibly presented - the climactic seduction scene is riddled with Mills & Boon cliches. But that's unimportant set against the powerful evocation of the punishing detail of 18th-century naval life, and Jackman's own dignified and unaffected performance.

'Wittgenstein's Daughter', White Bear, London SE11 (071-793 9193); 'Bligh', Etcetera Theatre, London NW1 (071-482 4857).

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