Justice, love, lies and revenge make for a combustible mix in Nina Raines’s powerful and funny new play, Consent (National Theatre’s Dorfman Auditorium), directed by Roger Michell, in a co-production with Out of Joint.
Edward and Tim are barristers and friends who are both involved in a rape case, albeit on opposing sides. It’s not a straightforward case as the drunk, distressed women in question failed to give a thorough police statement, but both men have their jobs to do. Initially it feels like this trial will be central to the drama but it turns out to be background to the characters’ messed-up personal lives. The strong-willed Ed is married to Kitty, and when we first meet them with their new baby it looks as if their relationship couldn’t be more blissful, but cracks soon appear. On discovery that her husband has been unfaithful and shows little remorse, let alone empathy, Kitty embarks on a retaliatory affair with Tim, who is himself newly involved in a relationship with Zara, an actress friend of Kitty, with shattering consequences.
This is a multi-layered play which on the one hand, is a plausible portrait of a disintegrating marriage, in which neither partner can claim the moral high ground. On the other it is about the distinction between law and justice, centring on ordinary people who seek out the legal system at a time of emotional distress-victims of rape who end up feeling further violated. The play is critical of the legal system, without being cynical and raises important questions, in particular, whether constantly dealing with violent dishonest people has a corrupting effect on lawyers?
Michell’s production is a little episodic but at times, with a lot of black-outs but there is a clever use of time and place, that move the plot along and the drama gathers momentum as it goes on. Raine is great at barbed, wine-fuelled dialogue, exposing the sourness and subtleties of dysfunctional relationships and the ways people use words to wound the ones they love. This indeed is a work which stimulated debate rather than stifles it.
Admittedly the characters are hard to like and at times their smug conversation seems miles away from the real world. But Michell draws superlative performances from a cast of seven who make their predicaments seem both involving and insightful and give the play a heady intensity. Anna Maxwell Martin is particularly impressive as Kitty, the new mother who can’t forgive her husband’s past indiscretions, deftly suggesting that Kitty’s lively humour conceals a long-nursed bitterness, while Ben Chaplin is equally praiseworthy as the suavely imposing Ed, skillfully showing how his professional callousness has pervaded his private life. Pip Carter excels as Tim, the catalyst in the drama, as does Daisy Haggard as the 30-something, extrovert Zara, who yearns for happiness, and Heather Craney as Gayle, the women who unsuccessfully brings the rape case to court and who makes her character the emotional pivot.
This in short, is a fiercely intelligent, beautifully controlled and consummately acted drama that remains firmly fixed in the mind.
Playing at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Auditorium until Wednesday 17 May 2017.
Box office: 0207 452 3000Last modified: April 13, 2017