The Dispute

Who was first unfaithful: woman or man? A scientific experiment designed to recreate the garden of Eden and answer this question “once and for all” is the premise of this heavily modernised version of Pierre de Marivaux’s 1744 original.

Relying on a question posed by theological debate long since rendered mute results in a lack of intellectually coherent material with which to grapple

This question had some resonance in 1744, as did the ‘Wild Child’ theme that underpins the play. Four teenagers are brought up in isolation and on day 6570 they are let out into the world to encounter their sexual counterparts for the first time. Nature leads the way, whilst being pushed by a sinister experiment supervisor, embodied in a monitor atop a glass mannequin.

In 2014, this question doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’re 270 years more clued up as to how men and women work. Biblical questions have far less relevance to us in light of Ross and Rachel’s relationship in Friends. Relying on a question posed by theological debate long since rendered mute results in a lack of intellectually coherent material with which to grapple. The too-tempting answer is: ‘Who cares?’ We’ve discovered that it’s the complexities in human relationships that make them interesting, not the simple beginnings.

However, the direction and design in this adaptation are excellent. The aforementioned glass mannequin is a fascinating object; it would not be out of place in some of the exhibitions currently filling Summerhall. The symmetrical, minimalist stage is utilised very well, with the blocking clever and effective throughout. Projected video sequences are well sourced and edited, and add something essential to the atmosphere of the piece.

The cast is a young one and obviously very talented. However, sometimes the Shakespeare-in-the-park exaggeration of movement and diction jars with the modernity of text and production. The dialogue, whilst often charming, occasionally strays into near-cringe niceness. There is not enough of the sinister here to bring de Marivaux’s ideas to life.

Whilst initially an interesting thought experiment, The Dispute doesn’t seem to be a play that translates well for a modern audience. Now that we have exploded biblical ideas about man and woman, the question loses its essential meaning, ruining the possibility of complex analysis. This means that, in the end, we’re just watching some teenagers frolicking beside a stream, and laughing at how silly they are. There are more interesting ways of exploring the human condition.

Reviews by James Macnamara


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The Blurb

Day 6,570. The culmination of an experiment to recreate the Garden of Eden. Four teenagers locked away, never glimpsing another human face. Today they will be released. Director Emily Kempson reimagines Marivaux’s dizzyingly dark, erotic tale.