On the surface, Consent is about people taking sides in a rape case. However, it ends up being about something else – whether that means it’s about more or not, I’m not sure.
Edward and Tim are friends and barristers on a rape case, albeit on opposite sides. Edward and his wife Kitty are still overwhelmed by the recent birth of their baby. Rachel and Jake (also barristers) are in a marriage that is slowly falling apart. They’re all, unsuccessfully, trying to set up actor friend Zara with Tim. All the couples are pretty well-off – after all, at least one person in each relationship is a barrister. Gayle, the single working class character, is the woman who was raped. She is disappointingly stereotypical character, but the play doesn’t end up being about her. At the beginning, one might think playwright Nina Raine is setting up a comment on the lack of empathy with which Gayle is treated during the trial process. In fact, the rape case is merely there to bring to light the tensions and damages within the main couples’ relationships. They continue to disintegrate throughout the play, with a potential case of marital rape revealed at the end.
I find it so easy to emote to fictional characters that it’s refreshing for me to really not like all the characters on stage. They’re just quite unpleasant – it’s hard, as a starving student, or in fact as a Londoner in general, to warm to people who say things like ‘of course I have disposable income, I rent in zone 4’. I found myself thinking – ‘All they do is drink wine and feel like they’re better than others!’ Of course, it doesn’t follow that I didn’t like the actors – a good ensemble, with palpable tension. Anna Maxwell Martin as always-on edge Kitty was my favourite. Pip Carter, whom I’d previously seen as schoolteacher Medvedenko in the Young Chekhov series’ Seagull, is a skilled actor whom I enjoyed as the enigmatic Tim.
I was sat in the front row looking up – an unusual perspective for me. Due to the traverse staging, it was inevitable that one would miss a lot of facial expressions, but I felt the Dorfman Theatre had been used quite well, creating an almost Globe-like atmosphere, with people looking up at and down on the action from all around. I wondered about the thought behind the tens of different lamps that set designer Hildegard Bechtler had hung, department store display-like, above the stage. They threw a soft yellow light, twinkling on an off at random during scene changes to gentle classical music. The production’s lighting design didn’t really make use of the Dorfman’s extensive lighting rigs, relying solely on the set’s lamps instead. Scene changes were also facilitated by cut-out parts of the stage which moved up and down so quickly and seamlessly, revealing a sofa sometimes, chairs another, that I was often worried that the actors were going to fall in!
Consent is a play about three couples, and how the rape of one woman changes their relationships for ever. It tells an important story, though perhaps doesn’t go as deep as it could. With expertly crafted dialogue and a satisfying neatness, it renders one gripped and empathetic even one grates against the characters’ unlikeability.
Consent is playing at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre until 17 May 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.