Starting at the London National Theatre before moving on to the West End, Nina Raine’s complex and thought provoking Consent makes its debut at the Seymour Centre with immense impact and brilliant cast.
This rendition by the Outhouse Theatre Company is well directed by Craig Baldwin and assembles some of the finest casts on stage this year. Exploring the notion of consent and how relationships skirt issues like honesty, communication and interpret what justice looks like.
Set deep in the world of lawyers, with casual approaches to criminals and treating each action with little regard, Edward (Nic English) and Tim (Sam O’Sullivan) are friends on opposite sides of a sexual assault case brought on by Gayle (Jessica Bell). But despite the magnitude of this for Gayle, the two are so accustomed to the roles they play in the justice system, little care is made in their attempts to see true justice play out.
Meanwhile Edward’s wife Kitty (Anna Samson) is helping to decorate their home with a newborn baby and both socialise with other lawyers Jake (Jeremy Waters) and Rachel (Jennifer Rani). Kitty’s best friend Zara (Anna Skellern) is an actress who brings lightness to the group. Their lives all seem perfect until Gayle throws their lives into turmoil after one encounter.
Interestingly, despite the name of the play, the story encompasses so many complicated themes, messages and concepts that there is a clear reason why it’s a modern story with such popularity. It’s an intimate emotional journey that interweaves its characters well to challenge social norms and perspectives on important concepts.
Samson is truly wonderful as Kitty, engaging and a powerful force be reckoned with. English is able to start the show by making you love Edward, only to demonstrate his heartless and misogynistic personality within. O’Sullivan is an interesting one to watch as Tim, cautious and sensitive, directly opposite to Waters’ most narcissistic Jake. But it’s Bell in her more limited scenes who makes the strongest impact.
Staging by Soham Apte is powerful, despite minimal props, and the mirror glass backdrop illuminated by Ryan McDonald easily allows us to see ourselves and our society in the characters on stage. We are both spectators and participants, in dinner parties and courtrooms, and are also led to decide if justice prevails at all times, despite blurred lines on consent and the social dimensions of relationships.
At a hefty 140 minutes, Baldwin works with the actors on making scene changes, and he is able to use staging effectively to generate tension where needed. The script itself could use some work, particularly with showing how characters came together in the past, though it works in balancing the humour of the show in such a dramatic context.
Consent turns out to be a story about redemption, but the journey is full of questionable characters doing unsavoury things that makes for truly compelling drama. The challenges these characters face are not too unlike those in our real lives which allows for a serious exploration of adult themes that will generate strong conversation and feeds those who seek out more provocative subject matters in their on stage choices.