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.