Monday, August 05, 2013

New Play on Adam Smith Performed in Edinburgh

Bill Dunlop reports (4 August) on a Festival Fringe Performance at the Edinburgh International Festival of Adam Smith - Le Grand Tour Review”  HERE 
[Venue:  Institut Français d’Ecosse Company:  les Labyrinths  Production:  Vanessa Oltra (writer), Gerard David (director), Gontran Froehly (video), Johann Acensi (scene and lighting design), Anne Vergeron (costume design)
Performers:  Frederic Kniep, Vanessa Oltra]
 Adam Smith is given a curious Grand Tour by Les Labyrinths, taking in aspects of his life, philosophy and posthumous career.
Opening and continuing with impressive back-projections, largely of an Edinburgh with which Smith would have been familiar, ‘Adam Smith, Le Grand Tour’ asks some penetrating questions about our present-day perceptions of the man.
Perhaps, before proceeding to discuss the production, it may be as well to briefly consider both Smith and what we think we know about him.
Smith regarded and described himself as a moral philosopher (this, after all, is the subject he taught) and it’s curious his fate is to be generally regarded as the ‘father of economics’.
More curious still that a phrase which occurs only once in ‘The Wealth of Nations’, his survey of human relationships in the economic sphere, should be taken as a argument for the free market. (There is, of course no more such a thing as a free market than there is a free lunch, but that discussion need not detain us here).
Noting that Scottish merchants overseas preferred to deal with their countrymen at home, thereby promoting the trade and development of both their home country and the foreign entrepot in which they found themselves, Smith glimpsed an ‘invisible hand’ bringing about mutual benefit.
Smith was a child of his times, and while he recognises that labour has a right and even a duty to combine in the face of mercantile pressure on wages or conditions, he could not have anticipated the exploitation of child and female labour in the next century. ‘The Wealth of Nations’ is less a tract for all times than an historical document mainly relevant to its own one.
Soap box set aside, on with the play. It’s premised on a neat wee notion, a Grand Tour in reverse, a nod to the three years Smith spent as Tutor to the Duke of Buccleugh on his Grand Tour of Europe. This tour, however, is confined largely to Edinburgh and its itinerary consists largely of rehearsing the facts of Smith’s life and in puncturing (yet again) the many misinterpretations and misunderstandings that are still trotted out.
Sadly, it doesn’t make for great theatre – philosophy rarely does. The two performers boldly and bravely wrestle with their subject, but too often it feels like a singles tennis match, with Smith as the ball batted back and forth and rarely coming to rest at any pertinent point.
Which is a great pity, since it’s clear that much work has gone into this production and one senses that the subject matter finally overcame the drama.
A recent injunction to those with an interest in the future of the Edinburgh Fringe is not to ‘step on the coral’. A wise word, since material such as this is very much what the Fringe ought to be about – the opportunity to learn how to fail better, and to develop a better understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Les Labyrinths clearly deserve to do so." 
Venue:  Institut Français d’Ecosse Company:  les Labyrinths
Running time:  60mins Production:  Vanessa Oltra (writer), Gerard David (director), Gontran Froehly (video), Johann Acensi (scene and lighting design), Anne Vergeron (costume design) Performers:  Frederic Kniep, Vanessa Oltra.
I have not seen it yet but will report if I do manage to do so.  This will be the third  year in which someone has presented plays at the Edinburgh Festival on aspects of  the life of Adam Smith. 
From Bill Dunlop's critical report of the play's structure it seems to make the usual philosophical mistake of legitimising the myth of the invisible hand metaphor, but  that that is to be expected given many philosophers and economists (and authors of plays) only pick up what the "experts" report about Smith's life.  Thankfully Bill Dunlop, of whom I have not information, knows better.


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