Enquiry Concerning Hereafter

Aug 20 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆      Philosophical

Panmure House (Venue 305): Fri 4 – Sun 27 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Enquiry Concerning Hereafter, produced by Adam Smith’s Panmure House, is a touching evocation of friendship mixed with philosophy.

Duane Kelly’s play is a dialogue-heavy account of the long association between David Hume and Adam Smith, two of the central figures of what is often called the Scottish Enlightenment.

Enquiry Concerning Hereafter

The play depicts separately the deaths of the two men, and gains significance and poignancy by being performed in the very house where Smith lived for the last decade of his life. The third character is Charon, the boatman who ferries the dead to the afterlife in classical mythology – an unexpected appearance given the scepticism concerning religion and superstition for which Hume in particular was famous.

However, this is a far more traditional depiction of the two thinkers than seen in Jo Clifford’s The Tree of Knowledge, for example. The relationship between Hume (Mark Coleman) and Smith (Dougal Lee) is the play’s focus, and it could be said to be a kind of love story, although certainly neither character is aware of that.

The play commits one of the cardinal sins of the Fringe by running longer than advertised. This is made clear before it starts, and accommodation can be made for anyone who has to leave early.


What is not clear is why it has to run long. The play’s explorations of philosophy and human nature do include some repetition and could have survived gentle pruning. In particular, the episodes of special pleading – where Smith laments that one day his name might be taken in vain by right-wing Thatcherites whose economic policies he would never have supported, or Hume alludes to the views on race that have made him newly controversial in Edinburgh recently – sit decidedly awkwardly.

Much of the rest is distinctly dialogue-driven in the best philosophical tradition, and accordingly may try the patience of some. However, it is done with considerable style. Coleman’s more mischievous, puckish Hume and Lee’s more upright, strait-laced Smith provide an effective contrast, and the pleasure the two men took in each others’ company is clearly evoked in two winning performances.

Enquiry Concerning Hereafter

Ian Sexon’s Charon, meanwhile, provides a welcome burst of theatricality, being cleverly used in small bursts throughout.

Andy Corelli’s direction gives the production a warm and unhurried feel, with the potential pitfalls of a room with seats dotted about on three sides elegantly overcome. Contrast between the two time periods depicted is made cleverly and simply, not least through Aimee Whyte’s costumes.

The perennial problems of presenting thought on stage are never really overcome, but this never becomes dry or overly worthy. Instead, it has considerable appeal, both visually and intellectually.

Running time: one hour and 25 minutes (no interval)
Panmure House, 4 Lochend Close, EH8 8BL (Venue 305)
Friday 4 – Sunday 27 August 2023
Daily (not 7, 14, 21) at 4.00 pm; Saturdays also at 12.00 noon
Tickets and details: Book here.

Panmure House links

Panmure House website: http://www.panmurehouse.org

Instagram: @adamsmithhouse

Twitter: @AdamSmithHouse



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