Writer: Tim Cook
Director: Jennifer Davis
22 May – 9 June 2018
I walked out of this play feeling quite sure that I had seen some very affecting and high-quality theatre, but unsure what it had meant. ‘How many stars will you give it?’ asked my companion. ‘Four, I think, maybe four and a half,’ was my reply, ‘I just have to do some processing – figure out what its message was.’ On the Tube home we spent as much time discussing this play as we had watching it, and by the time I walked in my front door, my feelings towards it had completely changed. I’d realised some things.
Perhaps appropriately, this is much the same way that the play’s plot progresses. (It is going to be extremely difficult to review and discuss Adam & Eve without spoiling its ending or at least hinting at it, so maybe you should stop reading now if you want to maintain your ignorance in that respect.) Adam and Eve have recently moved to the country, where they have bought a house and gotten right down to the business of baby-making. Everything seems to be going ideally until Adam – a high school English teacher – is accused of having a sexual relationship with one of his students, a precocious, pretty teen called Nikki. For the most part, we follow Eve as she struggles to come to terms with this hammer blow that takes apart her happily domestic life, and as she tries to ascertain the truth. Are these allegations against Adam true? Partially true? Totally false? If false, why is Nikki making them? We see all three characters run a gamut of emotions and relationships throughout the space of the play, and their actors (Lee Knight and Jeannie Dickinson as the titular couple, with Melissa Parker joining them as Nikki) absolutely shine throughout. They build vibrant, entertaining, believable, flawed, and ultimately very human characters, with just the right touch of pathos at the right moments. Dickinson, in particular, creates an Eve who is both intelligent and naïve, capable and vulnerable, who stands up for herself yet clearly longs for affection and security. Watching her heart break throughout the play broke mine along the way.
The staging is minimalistic (a typically small and basic pub theatre room, capacity 50), with the audience forming the four sides of this theatre in the round/square – one row of audience seating is a church pew, a nice tie-in to the play’s theme of marriage. The only items on stage are two chairs, and basic props sometimes carried by the characters, such as an iPad, toothbrush, notepad, etc. Hovering above the stage space is a light installation, a cloud made of what looks like white wedding serviettes, which is illuminated in various different colours throughout the play. Yet despite the lack of setting markers, there is never any doubt where a scene takes place, and the plot, acting, and the quality of the dialogue is enough to make the sparsity of the stage space melt away into irrelevance. The pacing is excellent, the dialogue crackles, the story sucks you in, the characters are compelling, none of that is the problem.
The problem is that hidden under the well written play and all that high quality is an argument that is unethical, ugly, and regressive.
Again, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but let’s just say that in this play, Adam and Eve’s Eden is a happy, traditional, heteronormative marriage, with a mortgage and a baby on the way, and Eve ruins this by taking the poisoned apple offered up by an Old Nick who is effectively a strawman for a sort of vicious, misandrist hyperbole of third wave feminism. This play is inextricably enmeshed in the current climate of #MeToo and sexual abuse, but instead of punching up at the abusers, it is punching down at the survivors. It laces in all the arguments of ‘maybe the men who are accused are the real victims’, and ‘women have total power to ruin a man’s life with a nothing but a single accusation’ (which is statistically untrue, and even within the plot of this play I found it hard to suspend my disbelief there is chance authorities would have taken Nikki seriously given the paucity of hard evidence – but I digress), and ‘we can never know what the truth is when it’s her word against his, so it would be wrong to punish him’.
Not that any of this is particularly obvious – the irony is that this play is better at gaslighting and manipulation than any of its characters. All these messages are insidiously couched in a mimicry of #MeToo and third-wave feminist rhetoric, which is then undercut and subverted into the polar opposite.
It’s a well done play, but rehashing the story of the Fall of Man with no changes to the gender dynamics, except to portray the devil as a young woman, is not fresh or original. A story where women are either weak and fallible or scheming home-wreckers who use their sexual attraction to manipulate and punish men is not original. Even this story’s twist and the characters’ names are not original – they are almost identical to those of The Shape of Things by Neil Labute. The parallels to Jane Eyre would have been a nice touch had they not been manipulated to push an agenda less progressive than the novel written hundreds of years ago. So despite the excellent acting, production values, and overall quality of Adam & Eve, I cannot give it four and a half stars that all these things merit; but neither will I let my overall rating be wholly determined by my moral objections to the play’s values and lack of originality.
You’ll have to be satisfied with a solid three.