David Lee previews a new play for this year’s Fringe exploring the ‘bromance’ between the Enlightenment’s David Hume and Adam Smith
The “love story” between Adam Smith and David Hume, two towering figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, will be told at the world premiere of a play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.
The play, which explores the deep and profound relationship between the two men, will be performed at Panmure House in Edinburgh, where Adam Smith lived for the last 12 years of his life. He died there in 1790.
American writer Duane Kelly discusses the relationship and his play, Enquiry Concerning Hereafter, in the latest episode of The Panmure Podcasts, Adam Smith and David Hume: An 18th Century Bromance.
Kelly says: “What I saw was a love story as the essence of their relationship. Intellectual sharing was a huge part of it, but more profound and deeper was their friendship. And that friendship, I think, took on even more importance for them because they didn’t have spouses and families.
“This relationship with each other was the most important relationship in their lives.”
Andy Corelli, who will direct the play, says: “I suppose the modern terminology is ‘bromance’, isn’t it? Reading some of the letters they wrote, it’s clear there is a deep friendship and trust, and respect for each other, but also joviality and sarcasm.”
The play is split into two acts – one focusing on the death of Hume and the other on the death of Smith. The third character is Charon, the mythical boatman who ferries dead souls across the River Styx in the underworld. He is described by both Kelly and Corelli as an “impish” character who brings humour to the play.
Kelly says he never imagined his play would be performed in the place where Smith lived, and revised his masterworks, The Wealth Of Nations and The Theory Of Moral Sentiments.
“It’s remarkable,” he says. “I feel very blessed. There’s also a kind of eerie element to it – I’m going to have an actor reading words I wrote and ‘dying’ in a bed in the house where Smith actually died. I’m sure it will give an extra spark to the performance.”
As well as their personal relationship, the intellectual interplay between Smith and Hume is vital to the production. Although Hume was the older “brother” by 12 years, Kelly believes they were “intellectual equals” who drove each other on.
“Hume’s intellectual journey preceded Smith, so he had been thinking about these things longer, developed his ideas further,” he says. “In that sense, Hume was senior to Smith, but that doesn’t mean one was subordinate to the other. They treated each other as equals and helped each other and became dear friends.
“They welcomed their ideas being challenged by each other, and recognised they both derived great benefit from that. Built into their relationship was helping each other by challenging, arguing, questioning – which made them both better thinkers, better writers.”
One powerful scene features a furious exchange between the two friends after Hume, near death, asks Smith to publish his book, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
Smith, who is uncertain, says: “No questions are more fundamental to the human condition than the ones in here – but society is unready”. Later he adds: “Many will see this as blasphemy.”
The discussion over the existence of God, and what that meant for life, and the after-life (the “Hereafter” of the title), is a key theme. The fusing of the intellectual and the personal is crucial to what Kelly tried to achieve, Corelli believes.
“I think he wants to give a higher profile to both characters, the importance of their thoughts and philosophies and how that applies to the modern world. But he also wants to take them down off a sort of pedestal, so people can relate to them, as real and interesting characters who have shaped modern-day thought.”
Blair Barrows, programme executive at Panmure House, agrees, saying: “How do we connect with people that lived 300 years ago? We may know Adam Smith as a son of Scotland, but how is he relevant today? That’s what we’re trying to convey in this production, by presenting Smith as a multidimensional person who lived a truly human experience. That helps us connect with him.”
The parts of Smith, Hume and Charon are played by experienced Scottish actors
Dougal Lee, Mark Coleman and Ian Sexon. Kelly believes the play has been very well cast and looks forward to coming to Edinburgh to watch it in August.
“I like to sit toward the back and observe the audience’s reaction,” he says. “Audiences never lie. If they fall asleep, your play is not engaging enough. If they cough, their attention is starting to wane. If they don’t laugh at a line you intended to be funny, then the line is not that funny. The audience teaches me a lot.”
Kelly thinks Smith and Hume would have enjoyed the play, and hopes audiences will feel its poignancy.
“Whenever we see somebody dying on a movie screen or on stage, that has
The modern terminology is ‘bromance’, isn’t it? Reading some of their letters, it’s clear there is a deep friendship and trust, and respect
inherent dramatic interest,” he says. “I hope people come away with a deeper understanding of Smith and Hume, having seen a love story. It didn’t have a romantic dimension to it, but it’s a love story, where both characters die at the end, and that’s very sad.
“If the play’s successful, some of the audience will leave with their eyes and cheeks moist. I hope that happens.”
Enquiry Concerning Hereafter will be performed from 5-27 August at Panmure House in Edinburgh (no shows on Mondays). Full details: www.panmurehouse.org/ programmes or tickets. edfringe.com/whats-on/ enquiry-concerning-hereafter