Sydney review – Consent: thoroughly entertaining glimpse into the legal world
By Paul Kiely
By Nina Raine
Directed by Craig Baldwin
An Outhouse Theatre Company and Seymour Centre Production
Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale
Season: 1 – 24 June 2023. Bookings: https://seymourcentre.com
Duration: 140 minutes (including interval)
If you have formed a dim view of the legal profession, Consent will only confirm what you always suspected. Apologies in advance to lawyers and barristers out there. Unfortunately, you are not portrayed as the great defenders of justice in this rivetting, cutting but thoroughly entertaining glimpse into the legal world.
There is a lot of cynicism in Consent. Nina Raine’s characters all lack belief systems and moral compasses. So, it is no surprise that their inability to form trusting, loving and lasting personal relationships matches their insincerity when representing clients.
Consent is centred around two couples in London. They regularly get together and naturally talk about their work in the courts. Kitty (Anna Samson) and Edward (Nic English) have a newborn baby. Rachel (Jennifer Rani) and Jake (Jeremy Waters) seem fine together but have rumblings undercurrent.
Jake and Edward compare notes on their latest ‘rapes’. That is, their court appearances representing rape victims or perpetrators. Alcohol flows freely and the odd joint gets passed around. Clients are just numbers; victims get blamed for their apparent errant behaviour.
A mutual single friend is Tim (Sam O’Sullivan) who is soured by the daily representation of criminal matters. In a meeting with client Gayle (Jessica Bell) outside the courtroom, he shuts down her description of the rape to him as it will taint his ability to represent her. He risks becoming a witness. As he later states “You don’t need empathy to have an opinion”.
Another mutual friend of both couples is Zara (Anna Skellern). A short relationship with Tim ends, enabling her to escape this sad environment.
The story though is not just about hypocrisy in law. The issue of consent in rape cases mirrors the distrust and disloyalty that goes on in the ‘stable’ relationships of the characters. Past transgressions simmer until drunken social discussions inflame hurt feelings and make all involved question their idea of what ‘consent’ means.
In a game of ‘truth or dare’, each player interestingly chose ‘truth’. Ironically, this line hit the issue of adultery on the head: “The more people talk about it, the more likely they are to do it”.
As a play, Consent is an ideal trigger for the audiences to look at their own lives on issues concerning trust, infidelity, forgiveness, revenge and judgement. Clever writing by Nina Raine places incendiaries throughout the story and keeps viewer interest through sharp dialogue, dramatic scenes and some humorous exchanges.
Directed by Craig Baldwin, players have a big, wide Seymour stage to flaunt their skills. A mirrored backdrop permits see-through vision at various times. This allows ’victims’ to ‘look in’ on the private lives of the legal fraternity, in a reversal of the forensic interrogation the victims face when seeking justice.
All the cast were excellent. Each actor had a deep, complicated character to portray, and delivery was precise.
Consent is an intelligent and clever production, albeit at the expense of lawyers. Let’s hope the system of justice is not quite so contemptuous in the real world. Perhaps we can take hope from Edward’s plea: “Forgive me, please forgive me”.