The Harold Pinter Theatre, London – until 11 August 2018
Reviewed by Sharon MacDonald-Armitage
There is a rather uncomfortable voyeuristic feeling to the opening of Nina Raine’s Consent. What appears to be an almost perfect upper middle class scene of new parents, barrister Ed (Stephen Campbell Moore) and wife Kitty (Claudie Blakley) as they share the joy of their new born child with their friends and barristers Jake (Adam James) and Rachel (Sian Clifford), however, there is an impending feeling that something is not quite right.
Through the inability to decide in what direction a sofa should face these first world problems take a backseat when Ed discusses the rape case he is prosecuting against fellow barrister and friend Tim (Lee Ingleby) who is desperate to be in a relationship, like his friends and as such the butt of many of Ed and Jakes jokes. Once Tim is matched up with over exuberant actress Zara (Clare Foster) there appears to be a somewhat perfect symmetry to these harmonious couple’s lives.
The seriousness of the rape is played down as Ed flippantly banters on about the working class woman who had drunk too much and didn’t behave in the manner he expected a rape victim to behave and did she really not give consent? This is exacerbated by him taking on the victim’s accent and mimicking her as if to detach him from the seriousness of the intellectual and legalise discussion and play down the impending court case. Coupled with clear tension between Jake and Rachel there is an undercurrent of friction about to come to a head, but from what direction is yet to be seen.
Raine highlights issues of marriage, relationships and betrayal and how the perspective of one person’s view of consent is very different when the tables are turned. Roger Michell’s direction allows for the actors to explore. There is a sharp realisation of how the legal profession work and how the “technicalities” leave victims crushed. Heather Craney is superb as the rape victim and transforms from strong and bewildered to devastated and ruined on finding her story shattered in court. Ed uses her own history of depression against her, whilst her alleged rapist doesn’t have his previous sexual misdemeanours even mentioned. This leaves a rather uncomfortable seat squirming feeling, with the audience who once felt the need to laugh at Ed’s ridiculing of her but now have empathy with her situation.
The cyclical structure of the play sees the tables turned on the main characters forcing the audience to think carefully about relationships and how despite trauma nothing much changes
What a detailed observer of human nature Nina Raine is, this is an intellectual and challenging piece of superb theatre and should not be missed