The Tree of Knowledge

Traverse Theatre


Jo Clifford’s play looks at what would happen if the ideological founders of modern capitalism, Adam Smith and David Hume, would be brought back to life in contemporary Edinburgh.

The two philosophers are by turns amazed, disgusted and astounded by where their theories have led to: the internet, the iphone, ecstasy and club culture and the darker reaches of pornography.

Meeting Eve, a contemporary Everywoman who has worked her way up from the factory floor, they are confronted by the draining monotony of the production line and the struggle of feminism. A deeply spiritual although secular play for Christmas, The Tree of Knowledge was the most successful Christmas show in the Traverse’s history, selling out its whole run in Traverse One.

The production featured stunning performances from Gerry Mulgrew, Joanna Tope and Neil McKinven with design by Ali Maclaurin, video by Tim Reid and lights by Jeanine Davies and a score by David Paul Jones.

Neil Cooper, The Herald

Ben Harrison’s wide-open production…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.

Mark Fisher, The Guardian

Jo Clifford’s funny and wordy drama…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. 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’.

Kelly Apter, The List

The witty lines flow thick and fast, as philosopher David Hume and founder of free market economics Adam Smith awake from their deathly slumbers and question their re-birth. Actors Gerry Mulgrew (Hume) and Neil McKinven (Smith) instantly draw us in with their conviviality and comic timing, aided by Ben Harrison’s astute direction.

Thom Dibdin, The Stage

Under Ben Harrison’s direction this sets off in a magnificently ebullient and entertaining manner. Hume pondering what the witness of his senses in this theatre – deduced from examining the audience – makes of his own elegant proof of the non-existence of an afterlife. Smith coming out of his shell to discover first hand what the free-market economy in gay sex might be like. The result is strong, provocative and fascinating. Blasting the current model of capitalism, it examines the lack of humanity, of personal relationships and of reason in contemporary society.

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman extraordinarily wide and sweeping view of the historical moment in which we find ourselves – so much so that it ends with an image of the world seen from outer space, and a memorable plea that it should be regarded with the compassion and wonder it deserves. The play is set in a kind of limbo attached to our own place and time, 21st century Scotland; and awakening in this limbo, much to their own surprise, are the brother-philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith… powerful human interaction and argument, beautfully sustained by director Ben Harrison’s fine cast of Gerry Mulgrew, Joanna Tope, and Neil McKinven; and backed by the shimmering, thoughtful undertow of David Paul Jones’s score, in a clever and wholehearted play that brings home the fierceness of the crisis of civilisation we now face, and the fragility of the world on which we have conducted our experiments in faith and freedom, for better or worse.

Emma Hay, TV Bomb

..a darkly funny and tragically reflective look at how two men, three hundred years ago have shaped our culture, economy and potentially our future. The production is strikingly reminiscent of Ben Harrison’s work with Grid Iron – quirky Brechtian elements are introduced in the direction without relying heavily on them – the focus is Clifford’s dense and engrossing script. This is a refreshing and intense piece of theatre that should be welcomed across the Western world.