Through Enlightenment House – A Play in Five Rooms, The National Trust for Scotland has created an unusual theatrical experience: instead of being seated, the audience will be led through a series of rooms in their Georgian house, learning more about Edinburgh’s role in the Enlightenment and the people who lived through it.
The clever use of lighting and sound ensures that an apt ambience is sustained throughout the house. In the dining room, flickering candles illuminate some of the city’s best-known residents – David Hume and Adam Smith – as they discuss the issues of the day around the dinner table. Suddenly, the lights come on, and the two are horrified to gaze upon the audience. There’s some charming audience interaction as they examine the spectators, shocked by their outlandish clothing and good teeth.
There are other instances of humour peppered throughout the hour, as a dancing instructor complains about his pupils, and Hume and Smith listen intently to a debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond through the walls. However, there are also moments of melancholy, especially regarding the role of women in Georgian Scotland: novelist Susan Ferrier lies in bed, distressed by the lack of autonomy she has over her own life, while cook Mrs McCardie bemoans the long hours she works for miserable pay.
The resonance of this play is twofold: firstly, it provides an educational and enjoyable insight into the lives of various Scots who lived in Edinburgh in the Georgian period, imagining how they interacted with each other. Secondly, the audience gets to explore the house itself in all its Georgian glory, down to the most meticulous details. It is evident that the National Trust for Scotland has put a lot of effort into the historical accuracy of the venue, and it pays off.
It’s not a play in the traditional sense of the word – there isn’t a plot, and character development is difficult when you only have fifteen minutes per person. But that’s not what the audience is focusing on: they’re experiencing a beautifully constructed microcosm of Scottish history, told in five opulent rooms.