Published in the Guardian
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
DAVID Hume is getting maudlin. He has found out that, far from liberating the workforce, the free market has turned the workers into drones. Three centuries after the Enlightenment philosopher's birth, that's not the way he hoped things would turn out.
Adam Smith sees things differently. He has discovered ecstasy and the iPhone, and is delighted the market is giving humanity undreamt of pleasures. Only 12 years Hume's junior, the founding father of modern economics is looking the more sprightly by decades. Casting aside his work-ethic repressions, he legs it to the theatre bar in pursuit of anonymous sex.
These are the two impulses driving Jo Clifford's funny and wordy drama, low on action but high on discursiveness, in which the great 18th-century Edinburgh thinkers find themselves propelled into a contemporary world of microchips, instant messaging and cameraphones. That it's also a world of violence, alienation and atomisation is a conundrum they find hard to resolve.
The contradictions of capitalism perplex us all. That's why, in Ben Harrison's cleanly staged production, the house lights come up and Gerry Mulgrew's ever-inquisitive Hume gives the audience the once over. From his point of view, we are in a place "where people's creative energies have been set free by commerce". But as Neil McKinven's Smith discovers, it's a freedom eroded by the market's intrusion into our private lives. Money can't buy him love.
As the fallout from the banking crisis continues to grip Europe, Clifford contends we should neither continue in the same way, nor condemn our post-Enlightenment advances. Refusing to apologise for tasting the fruits of Eden, Joanna Tope's modern-day Eve exonerates Smith and Hume of responsibility for the market's excesses and reminds us of the deep humanity that underscored their vision. And you can't put a price on that.
© Mark Fisher, 2011 (pic: Robbie Jack)
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