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.
Nina Raine is both a playwright and a director. Having earned a first-class degree in English literature at Oxford, she began her theatrical career as a trainee director at the Royal Court Theatre. Her directing credits since include Shades by Alia Bano at the Royal Court, April de Angelis’s Jumpy at the Royal Court and in the West End, and William Boyd’s Chekhov adaptation Longing at the Hampstead Theatre.
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 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.
Nina recommended The Effect by Lucy Prebble.
Adam James is one of the most recognised actors working in Britain today, with an extensive list of credits on both stage and screen. His most prominent stage appearances in addition to Consent, include two of Mike Bartlett’s plays, Bull at the Young Vic, and King Charles III at the Almeida and in the West End, both of which transferred to New York, where Adam received the Clarence Derwent Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the Prime Minister in the Broadway production of King Charles III. Other stage appearances include Shipwreck at the Almeida, Girl from the North Country in the West End and another award-winning performance in New York in The Pride.
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 III, Belgravia, Life and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. His films include Road to Guantanamo, Mother of Tears and Johnny English III.
Adam recommended The Seven Streams of the River Ota by Robert Lepage.
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.
Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.
David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.
Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.