Play 2

Paris Jefferson, Kim Thomson, Judy Hepburn as Descartes, Bill Brand as Hume

God’s Waiting Room: the setting for a play recently hosted by the BA programme in Politics, Philosophy and History, entitled ‘The Ghosts of la Flèche’. The play was written and produced by recent PPH graduate Paris Jefferson. It had been Paris’s final year dissertation.

Paris came to me at the end of her third year. She had alighted upon the idea for the dissertation whilst walking to class one day, and was keen to pursue it. An actress by training, she knew what a playscript should look like. But could this form pass muster in an academic context? I asked Registry whether, if Paris wrote a critical introduction and used appropriate scholarly apparatus, there was any reason why a play script should not count…. the external examiner was consulted, Registry agreed, and Professor Susan James agreed to supervise. Paris commenced work.

Paris has told me that writing the script/dissertation is the most challenging but also engaging thing she has done. It is certainly properly the culmination of the cross-disciplinary degree, and testament both to the breadth and cogency of the syllabus and to Paris’s imaginative engagement with it.

Visualise the event: two actors (Judy Hepburn as René Descartes, Bill Brand as David Hume; former PPH student Kim Thomson reading in stage directions and other voices), a table, a pot plant, two chairs, a toy cat, some port and some chocolates. René Descartes and David Hume are in God’s Waiting Room. They rehearse arguments for and against the existence of God, sensationalism versus innate ideas.

As the conversation progresses Descartes moves closer to the promised meeting with God, as announced by a voice over a tannoy: ‘René Descartes, you are now number 32 in the queue, God will see you soon’. At the same time David Hume becomes more remote from God; beginning at 1,543 in the queue, by the end of the play the voice announces ‘David Hume, you are 5,552nd in the queue. God may or may not see you.’

But Hume – ‘le bon David’ – has the better time. He enjoys the port, the chocolates, and the company of Descartes. Descartes, grudgingly certain of himself at first, begins to enjoy Hume’s company. Hume is kind to Descartes as the latter sees the ‘ghost’ of his daughter who had died aged five and utters the hope that she is with God. Hume assures Descartes that this is the case. Whilst not himself believing in anything beyond this life, Hume nonetheless recognises Descartes’ need for reassurance, and provides it. It is a touching moment that registers the affective force of Max Frisch’s question, posed in a different context: ‘who, amongst those who have died, would you wish to see again?’

What began as an immensely imaginative and well-executed dissertation shone brightly performed for an audience. Laughter reverberated through the room, and mirth mixed pleasingly with reflection among the members of the audience of students, staff, and friends. All those who came said they had enjoyed the event, no matter whether they had yet taken Introduction to Philosophy!

If you missed it don’t chastise yourself – Hume wouldn’t – but come to the next PPH event. Paris meanwhile is looking for ways to take the play on the road, perhaps touring university campuses…..

Samantha Ashenden is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and  Chair of BA Politics, Philosophy and History at Birkbeck College.

Play 4

Judy Hepburn and Bill Brand

Play 3

The audience

Play 5

Louise Jefferson, Samantha Ashenden, Bill Brand and Paris Jefferson

Play1

Samantha Ashenden, Paris Jefferson, Bill Brand, Kim Thomson and Judy Hepburn