in Consent at the National Theatre
© Alastair Muir
024 – Consent, by Nina Raine
Nina Raine’s play Consent opens with two middle-class couples enjoying a housewarming party. They are metropolitan professionals; comfortable, even smug in their privileged personal and professional lives. So far so familiar. As it happens for three of these characters their profession is the law, and they are soon discussing details of their current cases including stories of murder and rape. The barristers talk about their clients and their crimes in a casual, superior way, believing that the behaviour of their clients is a world away from their own. What we will soon see, however, is that the motives and morals of these self-satisfied elite are not so far from that of their criminal clients – they too can allow their cruder instincts to compel them to cross a line of honour or even of the law.
In charting the fallout of the infidelities of these couples in parallel with a brutal rape case that the lawyers are contesting, Consent explores some of the most charged issues of our time: the sources of sexual betrayal and violence, the ambiguities of consent, and the failings of the justice system to account proportionally or sensitively with cases of sexual abuse. At a moment when media coverage of the threat of male aggression towards women is challenging us to look again at how to address this endemic personal and social scourge, the play could not be more relevant.
Consent premiered at the National Theatre in 2017, before transferring to London’s West End a year later. It is now available to watch at any time on the National Theatre’s At Home on subscription or to rent.
I am delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the author of Consent, Nina Raine, and by actor Adam James, who appeared in the National’s production in the role of Jake.
Her first play, Rabbit, which she also directed, premiered at the Old Red Lion theatre in 2006 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios that year, and to New York in 2007 winning her two awards as Most Promising Playwright. Her second play Tribes, about a deaf boy raised in a dysfunctional Jewish family, opened at the Royal Court in 2010. Productions in Melbourne and New York followed. Her next play Tiger Country was commissioned by Hampstead Theatre in 2011, before Consent in 2017. Her most recent play, Stories, which tells the funny and poignant story of a 40-year-old single woman searching for a partner with whom to have a baby was produced at the National Theatre in 2018.
Adam’s lengthy list of screen credits includes some of the most popular and esteemed titles on TV, including Band of Brothers, Ashes to Ashes, Doctor Who, Grantchester, King Charles 111, Belgravia, Life and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. His films include Road to Guantanamo, Mother of Tears and Johnny English 111. George Turvey trained as an actor and has appeared on stage and screen in roles as diverse as the world première of Arthur Miller’s No Villain at the Old Red Lion Theatre and Trafalgar Studios, and Batman Live World Arena Tour. George co-founded Papatango in 2007 and became the sole Artistic Director in January 2013. As their dramaturg, he has led the development of all of Papatango’s productions. Credits as director include Shook (Papatango, UK tour), Hanna (Papatango, UK tour), The Annihilation of Jessie Leadbeater (Papatango at ALRA), After Independence (Papatango at Arcola Theatre, 2016 Alfred Fagon Audience Award, and on BBC Radio 4), Leopoldville (Papatango at Tristan Bates Theatre), and Angel (Papatango at Pleasance London and Tristan Bates Theatre). George is the co-author of Being A Playwright: A Career Guide For Writers, published by Nick Hern Books.
The Footnotes to our episode on Nina Raine’s play Consent include observations on the ritualised performance of barristers in the courtroom, the resonances of Greek tragedy in the characters’ modern-day dramas, and the epistemology of intent or how they don’t know why they do what they do.
It is 1789 and a group of convicts in the newly-founded colony of Botany Bay in Australia are assembled to put on a production of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer. The true story of this unlikely theatrical enterprise is the subject of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s award-winning play, Our Country’s Good, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1988 almost exactly 200 years after the events it portrays. The play is a vivid portrait of the volatile new settlement in New South Wales, which raises timeless questions about what makes for a country’s good: the exercise of justice, the iniquities of class, the value of education and culture, and particularly of the redemptive power of theatre itself.
It made complete logical sense to follow our last episode on The Recruiting Officer with this wonderful play, and even more sense to invite Director Matt Beresford back to talk us through it.
George Farquhar’s rollicking Restoration Comedy The Recruiting Officer is ostensibly a portrait of officers engaged in the nefarious art of impressing men into the army in the country town of Shrewsbury, but it is as much a tale of the local ladies themselves recruiting for lovers and husbands. The classic comic satire of love and war, and sex and deception was first performed at Drury Lane in 1706, and went on to become one of the most frequently performed plays of the 18th century and a staple of education curricula and theatre programming ever since.
Director Matt Beresford joins us to assess the ‘recruiting officers” respective strategies and successes.
Tom Stoppard’s ambitious new play Leopoldstadt is a sweeping work of history and ideas which charts the diaspora and decline of an Austrian Jewish family through the convulsive events of the first half of the twentieth century. It addresses profound moral questions of identity, memory and prejudice that are insistently relevant in our time. It is not only a towering intellectual achievement, it is also very personally poignant because it is based partly on Stoppard’s own remarkable family history.
Leopoldstadt opened in the West End in January 2020, only to be closed prematurely by the pandemic a few weeks later. Happily it has returned to the London stage this Autumn, and I am privileged and delighted to talk in this episode with the director of the London productions, playwright Patrick Marber.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …