Consent has been praised for its “bracingly clever” script, “artful” production and “excellent” cast. But relevance is the other key to the success of Nina Raine’s latest play, directed by Roger Michell and supported by Bruno Wang Productions. It seems like the fast-paced tragicomedy was written yesterday. Yet Raine wrote Consent seven years ago.
Today, as society battles with questions of power and gender politics, Consent could not be more timely. The #MeToo campaign seeks justice for gender crimes. It asks us to re-examine our private morality. Raine’s riveting play does the same.
Raine herself says the play is about ambiguity. The drama hinges on the deadly grey area between saying “yes” and not saying “yes”, between saying “no” and not saying “no”, and on what is not said. Raine plays with language to laser in on the justice system’s response to both victims and perpetrators as well as allegations of sexual misconduct.
Audiences reel from the truthful but shockingly fruitless accusation of rape brought by victim Gayle (Heather Craney) to Kitty’s (Claudie Blakley) grave accusation of marital rape. This is #MeToo writ large as we see how allegations of sexual misconduct have consequences and cause pain – not just in the law courts, but in the unprotected privacy of the home. The accusation of marital rape is made in a kitchen, not a courtroom.
But what if, like so many victims of the #MeToo era, you make a formal allegation of sexual misconduct. Will justice be meted out? It won’t for Gayle. Her account is twisted into a negative one about her own drunkenness and mental health history. Her allegation is turned against her. It is used as a weapon to destroy her, an uneducated, vulnerable, powerless woman. Meanwhile, Kitty’s allegation of marital rape against husband Edward (Stephen Campbell Moore) causes their friendship circle to come crashing down. Gayle’s allegation is simply “her word against his”. Her rapist is found not guilty.
Consent is built on masterfully-crafted ambiguities. It is bitingly relevant, and it forces the audience to question their own morality and our public systems of justice.