‘Consent’ is the buzzword of contemporary theatre right now. Evan Placey’s 2015 play has been revived by NYT Rep Company, directed by Pia Furtado, with ever more relevance than before. Post-Weinstein, the systemic issues of rape and sexual control have resurfaced with paramount urgency.
Consensual deals with a whirlwind of problems, ranging from grooming to porn, to sexual assault, to authority, to STDs. In short, everything whirling around a 16-year-old brain. This proves to be a great asset, but also a downfall as the script tries to broach every topic, but in the end, lacks a cohesive punch.
The main narrative is that of Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) and Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton). The play opens with their meeting in a pub: they haven’t met for 7 years – Freddie is now Frederick the banker and Diane is still a teacher, but now with a child and another on the way. Freddie coolly tells Diane he’s registered an allegation with the police of grooming. She panics and leaves. A slick scene change later, we’re in the classroom and Diane is trying to teach the new ‘Relationships and Sexual Education’ group. A raucous scene, full of cheap sex jokes and serious questions about ‘doing, you know… it’.
The staging is plain, using plain classroom chairs and a blanket or two to recreate a garage, a pub, a house and a staffroom. The lighting is equally simple but used effectively to highlight Diane’s isolation amid unexpected allegations and desperate attempts to control her unruly class.
The crux of the play is the conflict between what’s ok in the moment, and what’s ok in principle. Georgia (in a stunning performance from Alice Vilanculo) tells Diane that compromise is a key in a mature relationship; this is probably true, but it depends if you’re compromising over Fast and Furious, or sex. This ambiguity is brought out nicely in the classroom setting as Diane is forced to preach principles she hasn’t necessarily lived by.
Placey’s attempt to deal with every issue in the whole sexual arena is a blessing and a curse. Aidan Cheng’s camp know-it-all ensures that intersectionality is maintained in discussions; Jay Mailer, as Freddie’s older brother, brings out the question of masculinity in sexual assault; Isabel Young asks what domination means and who is that good for. And more and more and more. While it’s good to raise lots of questions, the joke a minute pace means that some issues are trivialised. Cheng’s character isn’t much more than joke material, and Muhammad Khan’s masculine insecurities are left unaddressed.
In general, the play lacks coherence. The second act is almost entirely disconnected from the first; we are taken back in time to the night that Freddie and Diane had sex. Diane is drunk, Freddie is vulnerable but manipulative; Freddie doesn’t have a condom, but he says he’ll pull out. Again, Placey attempts to address all the questions but answers few. The tone is entirely changed from the first act- perhaps appropriately, given the content, but it has the effect of feeling like a separate play, added on to add some heft to the themes. Lasting just under 30 minutes, this neither adds enough to warrant a separate act, nor bears much relation to the first act, such that they actually connect.
A less ambitious approach might have improved this production, dealing with fewer issues in greater depth. A fully committed performance from a stunning cast largely makes light of this, but at moments, the script is a little on the nose. I mean, ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke in the post-sex scene. Really?
Review by Thomas Froy
She thinks he took advantage of her. He thinks she groomed him for months. Neither is sure. But when it comes to sex and consent, are there really any blurred lines?
This autumn, the NYT REP Company stages the explosive play Consensual, by Writer’s Guild Award winner Evan Placey (Girls Like That, Mother of Him) and directed by Pia Furtado (Dirty Great Love Story, Say it with Flowers). The thought-provoking play explores teenage testosterone, teacher-pupil relationships and the age of consent in the UK.
The National Youth Theatre REP Company revives this explosive and thought-provoking play following its premiere in 2015 at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Soho Theatre, W1D 3NE
Garrick Theatre, WC2H 0HH
22 October – 7 December
By Evan Placey
Directed by Pia Furtado
Associate Director Anna Niland
Evening performances (7:00pm): 22, 23, 24, 25 Oct, 3, 7, 8 Nov
Matinee performances (2:00pm): 25 Oct, 2, 3, 9 Nov
By Josh Azouz
Directed by Ned Bennett
Evening performances (7:00pm): 27, 29, 30, 31 Oct, 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10 Nov
Matinee performances (2:00pm): 27 Oct, 10 Nov
By William Shakespeare
Abridged by Moira Buffini
Directed by Natasha Nixon
Matinee performances (2:00pm): 20, 22, 23, 27, 29 Nov, 2, 4, 6, 7 Dec