Consent (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: April 26, 2017 in Theatre


There seems to be some doubt as to the correct collective noun for lawyers – a disputation? an eloquence? a greed? a huddle? a quarrel? – but Nina Raine’s new play features one of whichever, demonstrating to us all that the law is an ass and making asses of themselves in the process.

Couples Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Ed (Ben Chaplin), Rachel (Priyanga Burford) and Jake (Adam James) both have marital difficulties. All four are barristers. They congregate, smoke weed, down vodka and examine their own and each other’s cases, probing into current and “historic” misdemeanours, interrogating and cross-examining. Added to the mix is another friend, prosecuting counsel Tim (Pip Carter), a bachelor who has the good sense to cast his eyes towards a different (if only slightly) profession in the shape of Zara (Daisy Haggard), an actor. This is the metropolitan elite of Lewisham, Enfield and Camden in full flow and there is a great deal of humour to be drawn from lawyers unable to distinguish between their own emotional lives and legal processes. Raine finds the comedy in cutting exchanges, but, when it comes to the serious stuff – a rape trial in which the victim is Gayle (Heather Craney) – her play hits rocky ground, starting to feel too contrived and uncertain.

Roger Michell’s production, performed in the round, is classy if a little over-animated. The stage resembles a boxing ring, with a few items of furniture appearing from below, actors confronting each other usually standing in gladiatorial fashion. In contrast, an array of lamps in all shapes and colours and a chandelier hover overhead, making the Dorfman resemble the lighting department of John Lewis. Mirroring these contrasts, the production moves between light comedy and emotionally-wrought drama rather awkwardly and the play’s essential point – that the law and human entanglements are ill-suited to each other – often gets lost. Overall, Consent feels like a series of sparring matches. Punches are landed, but they are soft jabs and the knockout blow that is expected and needed never comes.

Performance date: 25 April 2017

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