The Tree of Knowledge: Between Saints and Sinners

Human knowledge is as controversial as modern time economy and progress. Those are the sidewalks that the new play by Jo Clifford leads us in, anyway. The fantastical and whimsical visit of the founders of modern economy and philosophy and firm atheists Adam Smith and David Hume, played by Neil McKinven and Gerry Mulgrew, are the two main characters that the playwright brings to the present. The notorious Scotsmen of Enlightenment experience modern world inventions of the computer, Internet and global economy through the eyes of Eve (Joanna Tope), whose memories of the dilapidated area of Glenrothes contrasts the glitzy memories of the new town of Hume. The resurrection, an ironical comment on Hume and Smith’s disbelief in life after death, somehow puzzles and entertains the inquisitive minds of the thinkers whose characters are again eloquently contrasted to reveal more about themselves individually. On one side, an enjoyable, freedom-loving  Adam bravely embraces the new world and the pleasures of free sexual expression against the  restrained, rational and slightly sceptical David whose explorative mind cannot stop thinking. His reflective state reveals a hidden side of his character: a gentle, caring and sympathetic soul, as though to undermine the conventional Christian perception about the bad Christian versus the good Man.

The collaboration between director Ben Harrison and composer David Paul Jones (a recent winner of the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for music) uses an exciting contemporary tale (told via multidimensional spaces synchronised well with the lyricism of the playwright’s text) to shine light on the general darkness and disillusionment of society as reflected through the experiences of the character of Smith. The stage and audience are carefully brought together, playfully interchanged at times by the director to create emotional closeness and then split up again to leave space for reflection.

Eve, the woman without family name or origin, is a symbolic image of the concept of the “eternal feminine” and sinner according to the Christian doctrine, who is transformed in the play through the dialogue with the innate humane character of Hume as though to say that the feminine in us is a possible solution to the adversity of contemporary social climate. She goes someway to say that the sinful fruits of human mind, which in its despair, similarly to the character of Smith, screams: “Hang all bankers!” and ends up burning his books as deeds of the devil instead.

The intensity of the dialogue at times loses its sharpness and the ties loosen but the play has bags of potential. Although some of the audience members, including me, found the preaching tone at the end a bit unnecessary, I strongly recommend The Tree of Knowledge at the Traverse Theatre and hold it as a true contender to the Christmas pantos and bon mot in the groove of classical European theatre. The play runs until the 24th of December this year.


About the author