Nina Raine’s Consent premiered at the National Theatre last year and has now transferred to the West End. I went to see it at the Harold Pinter Theatre.
The story turns around six friends, four of whom are lawyers focusing on rape cases. When we first meet them, Ed (Stephen Campbell Moore) and Kitty (Claudie Blakley) are celebrating the birth of their first child, their strong partnership contrasting with the shaky marriage of their friends Rachel (Sian Clifford) and Jake (Adam James) – there are strong hints of infidelity. At the same time, Ed is prosecuting a rape case opposite his friend Tim (Lee Ingleby), defending. It all seems like a game to these two blasé friends, chatting amiably behind the scenes while the defendant, Gayle (Heather Craney), who is almost certainly – it becomes apparent – telling the truth, suffers. Her fractured recollection of events is no match for the intellectual prowess of the lawyers cross-examining her. In a further subplot, Tim’s mates are trying to set him up with Kitty’s old school friend, actress Zara (Clare Foster), entangling the group even more.
I confess it took me a while to really get into this play, and at the end I still found that the central group’s stories were much less compelling than that of Gayle, who is almost reduced to a plot device. That said, I found much to admire in this clever and compelling piece. Morality is turned on its head: the self-righteous Kitty commits her own indiscretions; the calm, reasoning Ed becomes unhinged; and Jake, initially seen as nothing more than a philandering husband, is shown to be the most human and empathetic of the lot.
It’s a play that asks difficult questions: can the accusation of rape be used as a weapon? How important is the policy of “innocent until proven guilty”? Are the intellectual twists and turns of the law courts the appropriate place for rape victims to get justice? I liked the references to ancient Greek drama and the undercurrents of violence that evoke the tragedies of Medea and the Oresteia in a middle-class neighbourhood in 21st-century London.
Overall, while I found this a play hard to love, it was certainly not hard to like, and it’s definitely worth seeing.