A powerfully thought-provoking script from Nina Raine comes alive in this electric ADC adaptation.
As this play so adeptly proves, ‘consent’ is a deceptively complex word. Dragged into a knotted mire of solitary witnesses and ulterior motives, an audience would be forgiven for approaching the title with as much apprehension as the characters. But Consent is not simply powerful, inventive and unexpectedly hilarious, it is also deeply human.
Essentially the plot revolves around a group of friends, mostly lawyers, each with their own morally reprehensible flaws, layered pasts and fraught couple dynamics – sort of like an Oscar Wilde play imported to the present day. As lawyers Ed (Joe Harrington) and Tim (Isaac Allen) find themselves on opposite sides of a rape trial, the narrative deconstructs the absurdities of the legal system through their own domestic lens.
At the heart of the drama lies apology, not consent, a quest to extract genuine remorse from the guilty. To the cynical spectator, Maria Pointer’s Kitty spends months manipulating her emotionally vacant husband Ed to do just that, to say ‘sorry’ for cheating on her. But to another, she falls foul of a jealous, hypocritical and uncompromising creature.
Perhaps this creature is Ed, or perhaps the system itself, and the shockwaves are keenly felt across the stage, from Katie Chamber’s (emotional ‘collateral damage’) Zara, to the Scottish outrage and shattered soul of Sophie Stemmons’ Gayle. By the play’s ambiguous end, the audience are left to ponder the duality of all they have seen.
Rammed to the rafters with standout performances, Consent was expertly directed by Ilona Sell who choreographed conflict that came so rapidly it was hard to remember the actors didn’t believe what they were saying. The party scene at the close of Act One was a particular highlight, with its use of levels, descending fairy lights and blocking so well thought out that Covid regulations might have been kicked to the curb months ago.
Saul Barret’s ‘yardstick for adultery’ Jake, whose infidelity prompted a sensationally acted outburst from Gaia Mondadori’s Rachel early on, also became a much needed comic presence to temper the tragedy in the second half, while Isaac Allen perfectly embodied the quirkiness of his character Tim. As the hated ‘hamster’, he still clung to an inkling of a moral compass despite cuckolding his old friend.
Presumably the brainchild of Sell, the climax of Kitty and Ed’s confrontation was also one of the most striking images I have seen on the ADC stage. As a white cloth descends, their shadows are thrown against it, so that Kitty appears larger than the once philandering Ed. Emily Brailsford’s lighting design was also beautifully understated, reds and blues seeping over whites, subtly shifting and then swelling in scenes of emotional intensity.
Coco Wheeler’s set was well considered too, the sparse furniture variously laid out to represent a variety of indistinct houses, throwing the audience’s focus onto the characters, as Raine’s script demands. My only suggestion would be to accelerate the rearrangement of furniture on future nights, so that fewer blackouts outstay their welcome.
Overall, Consent is about far more than its title, and that is precisely the point. As character’s fret that the actions of others will ‘bankrupt’ the loaded terms at play, the audience is left with a scenario where nobody seems to be right. I would highly recommend Consent to anyone with a free evening this week, as not only does it deal with weighty topics in ingeniously unexpected ways, the production is also electric.
Feature image credit: Kasia Fallan