Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Tree of Knowledge

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Enlightenment comes in many forms in Jo Clifford's parable-like
fantasia, in which David Hume and Adam Smith wake up in the
twenty-first century, where the results of their philosophies are in
freefall. Their world in Ben Harrison's wide-open production is
designer Ali Maclaurin's brutalist breezeblock rotunda on which
blueprints for assorted tomorrows are projected, artless and without
centre. Their guide is a working-class woman from Fife called Eve, who,
arguably like all of us, began life with a false sense of optimism for
a future that never quite became the brave new world it was supposed
to. As Smith painfully discovers when he embraces new social freedoms
with the zeal of a convert, in a corupted free market economy, even sex
is flogged off on the cheap, cold and loveless as it goes.

Gerry Mulgrew's Hume and Neil McKinven's Smith first come to life on
comfy chairs, as if beamed down to some celestial salon in Edinburgh
New Town. Joanna Tope's Eve appears like a guru in a 1960s style chair
suspended from the sky by an umbilical cord that connects her to the
universe. Seemingly in purgatory, no-one is afraid to acknowledge the
audience, who sit in judgement of a series of exchanges that move from
accepted truisms to wise confessionals about the power that comes
simply from people opening up to one another.

Arriving somewhat presciently during what looks dangerously like
capitalism's last gasp, Clifford's meditation starts off with an
irrepressable waggishness grabbed hold of by a pop-eyed McKinven. By
the end, however, it's become a slow-burning totem of universal hope in
a messed-up world.

The Herald, December 12th 2011

ends

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