REVIEW – The Tree of Knowledge, Traverse Theatre


In Jo Clifford’s poignant yet playful imagining, Adam Smith (Neil McKinven) and David Hume (Gerry Mulgrew) are blessed with an enlightening opportunity to see how their philosophies have borne fruit, as they wake up resurrected in the 21st century.

Guided by modern-day Eve (Joanna Tope), their eyes are opened to the result of free thought and free markets: and how not everything in this utopian Garden of Eden is as rosy as they first think.

Clifford’s script is lyrical and wordy, managing to put convincing words in the mouths of these fathers of the Enlightenment: even when Smith uses his second chance at life as an excuse to indulge in his previously-suppressed hedonistic excesses.

Hume remains more philosophical, his eyes slowly opening to the reality of progress. Throughout, they are aware of their situation: and of the ‘sleek’ and ‘clean’ audience watching their metaphysical adventures in the afterlife.

Ben Harrison’s direction keeps things tight on a minimal set by Ali Maclaurin, allowing Clifford’s wordplay and premise to take centre stage. Devotees of Smith and Hume will find much to enjoy in her script; those less familiar with their work will still be led forward by Eve’s guiding hand.

The trio on stage give enjoyable and convincing performances, McKinven’s joy at being able to let off a lifetime of steam being particularly amusing to watch. Tope copes well with revealing truths to her companions and the audience alike, her expository role never feeling forced.

An unashamedly intellectual alternative to the more traditional seasonal fare currently on offer on Edinburgh’s stages, the play’s premise – that knowledge burns as brightly as any star – is just as uplifting.

The Tree of Knowledge runs until 24 December. More details are on the Traverse website.

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