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.
Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone presents an ordinary scene of four women of a certain age chatting over tea in a suburban garden. Of course not all is as tranquil as it appears, for each of the women harbour dark personal anxieties, and from time to time one of them steps away from the garden to share news with us about apocalyptic disasters that have struck the world. Produced at the Royal Court in 2016, Churchill’s vision of a world overcome by collective disaster has proved to be extraordinarily prophetic. Joining me to explore our first Churchill play is Professor Elaine Aston, author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill.
Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey caused a sensation when it appeared at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1958 because of its frank portrayal of a working-class, single mother and daughter, as well as its bold representations of a mixed-race relationship and a young homosexual as a central character. Delaney sent her first play to the renowned director Joan Littlewood who helped develop it into an historic production which went on to the West End and Broadway. Professor Nadine Holdsworth helps us to explore the enduring power and relevance of the play.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
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 …