More News on the "Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour" Play Performing in Edinburgh
Nigel Cooper (Theatre Critic) reviews the play (mentioned yesterday), “Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour”, performing in Edinburgh at the French Institute, until 25 August (3pm) HERE
in “The Herald” (Glasgow): “Smart money as spotlight on Scot who gave us Wealth Of Nations”
Or at least that's the case judging by the foyer-full of French economists packed into a small studio theatre ticked off a bustling shopping street in Bordeaux city centre.
The economists are coming to the end of a week-long conference at the nearby university, and clearly have plenty to say about it all.
“In what looks suspiciously like an end of term treat, they are gathered to watch a performance of Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour, a new play written and performed by Vanessa Oltra with fellow actor Frederic Kneip. The production, by Compagnie Les Labyrinthes, which arrived at the French Institute this week for an Edinburgh Festival Fringe run, charts the journey of Mary and Fred Smith, who travel to Edinburgh in search of the real Adam Smith, the Kirkcaldy-born moral philosopher and seminal author of his 1776 tome, An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations. More often shortened to the catchier Wealth Of Nations, this book is regarded as the first modern work of economics as we now know them.
For director Gerard David's multi-media production of this wryly clever hour-long show, Oltra and Kneip travelled to Edinburgh in a real life quest, and film of them at Canongate Kirkyard, where Smith is buried, and other locations appears throughout the piece. For Oltra, who herself holds a PhD in Economics, and divides her time between acting and lecturing at Bordeaux University, Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour is clearly a labour of love that reflects her own fascination with Smith.
"Several years ago I had this idea to try to write a play about the authors who are supposed to be the founding fathers of liberalism," Oltra says of her play's origins.
"At first, I wanted to look at several different authors. That turned out to be not such a good idea, but I didn't want to make an academic play, so I decided to choose Adam Smith, mainly because he's supposed to be the founding father of a lot of things. That's according to academics, and I wanted to know why.
"I read several different biographies, and became interested in his personal life. He was quite a strange man, and two things interested me. The first was that, although he was named as the founding father of so much, of capitalism and everything else, yet in his own life, he never had children. This point touched me a lot. In symbolic terms, it was a very strong image.
"Then I researched how Smith was commemorated in Scotland, and I was fascinated by the story of the statue of Smith in Edinburgh, which went up as recently as 2008."
Oltra is referring to Sandy Stoddart's statue, erected in the High Street, and paid for by private donations arranged by the Adam Smith Institute in London.
"I was very interested in this story," Oltra says, "again, in symbolic terms, that it went up just as the world entered into its financial crisis. There is also the story of Smith's grave. I read a story by someone who went to visit his grave, but the gates are padlocked, and you can't get in."
All of these elements have been put into what is a very personal impressionistic collage that praises Smith even as it questions how his legacy has been claimed by many for their own political purposes.
Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was even reputed to have carried a copy of Wealth Of Nations around with her.
"People use Smith to try to explain everything," Oltra points out, "but for me he has nothing to do with that. He was a philosopher. He never used the word capitalism in his work. You can't find the word in any of his books, and you can't find anything about globalisation, but people keep citing him as being the founding father of everything. He was very cautious. Although he talked about what became known as a free market economy, he also gave a warning, and said that if we're not careful, people will only be interested in making a profit.”
Oltra's specific interest in Smith stems from a set of interests she shares with her subject.
"It came out of a combination of my interest in economic thought and theatre," she says. "Smith was a theatre lover, and I was always involved in both worlds as well.”
So much so, it seems, that when she began lecturing in Bordeaux, Oltra also enrolled in a theatre course. Since then, she has successfully [engaged] in both pursuits. The character of Mary Smith in Adam Smith, Le Grand Voyage is clearly an extension of herself, and Oltra is happy to admit "90% of it is my story as well."
After the show in Bordeaux, Oltra, Kneip and David took part in a discussion with the economists who made up their audience. This was no usual after-show talk, however, as, rather than issues about the play's construction and how it was presented, questions thrown at Oltra in particular challenged her critiques of how Smith is sometimes perceived.
A former lecturer of Oltra's even went so far as to ask her why she was increasingly critical of how economics is taught, and if she applies it to her own teaching.
"We have a certain degree of freedom," she says, diplomatically, "but you also have to respect certain things. I try to do things differently, but there has to be a balance."
Given her very personal views of Smith, what, one wonders, does Oltra think Smith's real legacy is?
"For me," she says, "the most important contribution was his Theory Of Moral Sentiment, which he wrote 17 years before Wealth Of Nations. He described human nature so precisely, and we can learn so much from that about things, much more than we can from Wealth Of Nations."
Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour, French Institute until August 25th, 3pm.
Should you visit Scotland for the Edinburgh International Festival I recommend that you read “The Herald” too; its coverage, as the long-standing rival to The Scotsman (Edinburgh), is well worth it journalistically. It is the other national Scottish newspaper and can give visitors a useful comparison with two excellent examples of what is available in Scotland for regular readers.
Today, I received a ticket paid by and from my daughter for the Friday performance of this play and I shall post a report of what I think of it over the weekend.