Consent (Online review)

Consent (Online review)

The pandemic has had numerous effects on the theatre industry, and it is not the place of this blog to go over all these yet again. One which was highlighted yesterday, however, was the difference in the way we now watch and engage with productions, the vast majority of which have had to go online in order to ensure an audience. The Young Vic have recently announced a new project called Best Seat In Your House through which all the venue’s productions will be live streamed at specific points in the shows’ run and where viewers will have the option to control the view they are seeing more nearly to replicate the real theatre experience. They have recognised that there is a sizeable  and global at home audience which for reasons of geography, disability or finance may not have the option to go to an actual venue and that over the last year the expectation to be able to stream productions has become “hard baked” into the system. A system, of course, which largely began with the introduction of live streams from their near neighbour the National Theatre who are running their own platform for archived material.

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My latest “visit” to this was to see a play from 2017 which met with a degree of approbation at the time and transferred to the West End but that I’d nevertheless managed to miss. This was Consent by Nina Raine which dramatizes the debate around sexual permissions and rape. Most of the characters who appear are part of the legal profession and one of the few that isn’t is an actress hoping to portray a lawyer in a TV series. However, this is not a courtroom drama – in fact, there is only one scene, albeit a fairly central one, that takes place in such a location. The majority of the play unfolds in a domestic setting revealing that the participants’ lives can be just as messy and disrupted as the people they are supposedly doing the defending/prosecuting and that being part of an obviously upper middle class intelligentsia is no bulwark against raw emotions and the desire for retribution.

consent_-_ben_chaplin._photo_by_sarah_lee

Central to the plot are Kitty and barrister Edward who is professionally involved in a rape case. Their ostensibly easy going relationship masks some insecurities and the former’s growing desire/need to take revenge over the matter of her partner’s previous infidelity. She strikes back by starting her own liaison with Tim, another barrister who, it just so happens (or is it deliberate?), is the opposing brief in the rape case. Matters slide downhill rapidly and in the second act Edward finds himself accused of marital rape. Through this scenario Raine forensically examines the multitude of arguments and perspectives surrounding the whole issue of consent while mostly providing the viewer with a taut drama where the outcomes are allowed to develop organically and even-handedly rather than becoming the polemic which could so easily have become the case.

consent_-_daisy_haggard_anna_maxwell_martin_and_pip_carter._photo_by_sarah_lee

The production is another in the National’s series of archived performances (see also, Mosquitoes) so the technical side of things is far less accomplished than in the fully streamed performances. In particular, this recording distractingly reverberates with the sounds of the feet of actors moving around the stage. Everything is shot from just one side of the traverse staging which replicates the feel of being in a specific theatre seat but does mean that, sometimes, important reactions are missed. The cast though, is on fine form led by Anna Maxwell Martin (does she ever give a bad performance?) and Ben Chaplin (who, to me anyway, always seems to play any character in the same style and with the same vocal qualities). The pair are on particularly fine form in the second half as the disintegration of their relationship comes under the microscope. Best friends and fellow lawyers Rachel and Jake (Priyanga Burford and Adam James) have parallel troubles of their own and ultimately take sides with the central pair; pleasingly this is not demarcated along stereotyped gender lines. There’s a powerful performance from Heather Craney as Gayle, at the centre of the initial rape case who falls foul of some legal machinations and tracks Edward to his own home for a game changing confrontation.

a_scene_from_consent_photo_by_sarah_lee

Although this was a good play I can’t truly say I was riveted. For too much of the time characters seemed just that – characters – all speaking polished and often witty dialogue as opposed to real people living through traumatic times. Nobody is particularly likeable either. I can see why the play won plaudits as it is both timely and well written and undoubtedly debates an important issue. But I’m afraid that, apart from a strong section in the middle of the second half, I was not fully engaged and wasn’t overly sorry when the piece finished.

Production photos by Sarah Lee

Consent is available on National Theatre At Home – click here

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