The spoiler-free review: Tim Cook’s Adam and Eve is a play about a marriage between two frightfully middle-class young people whose idyllic, planned-out lives are wrecked by an accusation involving a third party. Helped by the well-judged length of the scenes, the pace is kept briskly by the three actors throughout, who deliver slightly mannered performances. The ending introduces an element barely seeded previously and seems to want to be patted on the back for pulling the rug out from under its audience’s feet. It inhabits the Hope Theatre’s space (un)comfortably well.
It’s impossible to write a good review of Adam and Eve without spoilers, however.
The review with spoilers: Adam and Eve features a relationship falling apart because of an allegation from a pupil that her teacher, Adam (Lee Knight), has been inappropriately texting her, flirting with her, and eventually having sex with her. He is blasé about the accusation. Eve (Jeannie Dickinson) at first desperately tries to prove that this must be false, but is faced with hard evidence. She leaves Adam. When she later encounters the pupil, Nikki (Melissa Parker), it is finally revealed to her that everything was indeed a fabrication.
Nikki decides to lie almost as a practical homework exercise, her own version of an essay Adam sets his students on Jane Eyre, comparing women in their lives with the heroine and her choices in the novel. She wants to force Eve to leave Adam because she feels him look at her with lust, because she believes Eve is “weak” for being with him, and that she will do better for herself without him. What happens, she tells us, represents necessary “progress”.
In the scene in which she meets Eve again in Budgens by chance and asks her eagerly “So you believed it all?” I tensed. As what Cook had decided to do with this “story” (as Nikki herself refers to her accusation) became apparent, I waited, hoping that couldn’t be what it seemed it was. The scene ended, and I wrote down in my notebook you’re kidding me. It occupied its own bulletpoint.
Cook gives us around twenty seconds of Eve and Nikki meeting before the trouble begins, and this moment is, apparently, what compels Nikki to make a false accusation of statutory rape, to have Adam suspended from his job as a teacher, and to press charges against him. The interaction is less than twenty seconds: Eve is at school to bring Adam a packed lunch as a one-off treat, Nikki comes in, and she leaves.
Earlier in the play we briefly see Adam tell Nikki, disturbingly, of his expectation of “little girls” doing what they’re told when he asks. It’s a horrible moment. What Adam and Eve wants us to consider is whether Nikki is justified in doing what she does, but the problem – one of the problems – is that there’s no ambiguity here. False accusations like this help no-one. Nikki’s hinted-at feminist motivations are laughable. We’re in no doubt that this shouldn’t have happened, and even given more time to draw out the potential horror of Adam‘s inappropriate behaviour as a man in a position of power, having Nikki accuse him like this ultimately adds up to nothing because the premise is so flimsy.
With more time, beyond its current hour and five minutes, Cook might have better fleshed out Nikki’s character: as it stands, she’s little more than a symbol. Eve and Adam are allowed their realistic, mundane domesticity, but the way the play abruptly ends forces Nikki to merely remain as an ambiguous, scaremongering warning: a perfect life can be ruined by someone lying. Or: no matter how truthful they seem, accusations of rape could be made up, like this one! Or: you cared and wanted to know more about what happened, you wanted to see him brought down. Your mistake.
Never mind that we have no opportunity or reason given before this to doubt Nikki, never mind that showing the claim to be fake isn’t some impressive gotcha lending a weight somehow lacking if she had been telling the truth.
There isn’t an incisive point the plays’ parts build to – there’s no connection linking everything. Instead, it feels thoughtless. Sorcha Corcoran’s set design is pretty, a hanging crumpled-paper cloud occasionally lit from within by differently coloured lightbulbs, but in no way does it add to the play or our understanding of it. The Jane Eyre comparison is barely present throughout and feels unbelievably thin when revealed as some kind of parallel. Like the biblical names of the couple, which they take as a sign they belong together, it sticks out as an under-sketched idea never fully capitalised upon. If we’re to note that the ‘fall’ was due to Adam‘s temptation in this case, and not Eve‘s, the same point could be achieved without Nikki making everything up.
What we’re left with is a muddying of the waters amounting to very little. We either take from it concern about false rape claims, something even vaguer like bad shit happens, or nothing at all: it isn’t funny, dark, realistic or abstract enough for anything else. If there is an end to which we’re shown all of this, I fear it isn’t worth it.
Adam and Eve is on at Hope Theatre until 9th June. Book tickets here.