Enlightenment House

The Georgian House, 7 Charlotte Square

November 2018- January 2019

A commission from the National Trust for Scotland, Ben was asked to write and direct a site-based work that would celebrate the beauty of number 7 Charlotte Square, a sumptuous Georgian house next door to the First Minister’s official residence.

After being welcomed into the house by the ghost of Robert Adam, its architect (who sadly died before it was complete) the audience join David Hume and Adam Smith as they dine on venison and debate the golden mean and other key ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment such as decorum, order and proportion. They are however horrified as the lights go up to discover an audience of women in gentlemen’s trousers and men without wigs. They are determined to learn more from these creatures from another world.

In the bedroom we meet Susan Ferrier, hallucinating scenes from her great novel Marriage. In another we are given a dancing lesson by Mr Fairlie the dancing master, in the parlour we meet Hume and Smith again, eavesdropping with a claret glass on their new neighbour Nicola Sturgeon, as she discusses independence and the need to stay in Europe. Finally we go below stairs for a warming cup of fashionable hot chocolate and the working class perspective from Mrs McCardie the cook.

Enlightenment House was the first project in a series of commissions designed to bring the arts of theatre to enliven the experience of visiting Scotland’s historic properties.

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman

There is something deeply satisfying about watching a witty evocation of the past in the very place that inspired the story. David Paul Jones’s music leads us thoughtfully through the rooms to a poignant final moment with the wonderful Nicola Roy as Mrs McCardie; Tom McGovern and Christopher Craig act up a genial storm as Smith and Hume. And in the end, the show comes as a simple but vivid reminder of how many of the basic decencies and equalities we now take for granted are a result of that fierce Enlightenment belief in human reason and progress; and of how much we stand to lose, if we fail to cherish that spirit of inquiry and optimism in our own time.

Neil Cooper, The Herald

Those familiar with Harrison’s work with site-specific auteurs Grid Iron might recognise familiar tropes of sex, food and taking literary delights off the page in this commission by The Georgian House’s NTS trustees. Kydd, Christopher Craig, Tom McGovern and a wonderful Nicola Roy playing all four female roles breathe insightful and pithily pertinent life into Edinburgh iconography. As the nights draw in, both seasonally and in what feels like the dawn of global endarkenment, a reimagining of history on our own doorstep has rarely possessed such strong foundations.

Ariane Branigan, The Wee Review

The clever use of lighting and sound ensures that an apt ambience is sustained throughout the house… There’s some charming audience interaction as they examine the spectators, shocked by their outlandish clothing and good teeth. There are other instances of humour peppered throughout the hour, as a dancing instructor complains about his pupils, and Hume and Smith listen intently to a debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond through the walls. However, there are also moments of melancholy, especially regarding the role of women in Georgian Scotland: novelist Susan Ferrier lies in bed, distressed by the lack of autonomy she has over her own life, while cook Mrs McCardie bemoans the long hours she works for miserable pay…[we are] experiencing a beautifully constructed microcosm of Scottish history, told in five opulent rooms.

Phyllis Stephen, The Edinburgh Reporter

Nicola Sturgeon had better watch out – her neighbours are listening to her conversations through the wall with the aid of a crystal glass…The play does not shrink from politics, particularly Brexit and the economics both from the 18th century and what Adam Smith believes he may have foretold in his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations…It is magnificently set in The National Trust’s The Georgian House on Charlotte Square …The Scottish novelist whose work was more popular than Austen in her day, had been a bit forgotten. Here, we witness Susan Ferrier speaking up for women’s rights through a metamorphosis into an amazing Lady Juliana. I must give Nicola Roy a special mention…Enlightenment House is engaging (literally – beware if you stand near the front at any time….) well-written and very well acted…I cannot recommend this highly enough to you as the alternative Christmas entertainment.