If you were to believe the writers in some of our more scurrilous daily newspapers, the world is divided into two categories – good or bad – and there are no grey areas. Fortunately most semi-sensible folk realise that this view of the world isn’t necessarily correct, however, when it comes to pupil/teacher relationships, most people are still of the mind that they are wrong and it is always the ‘adult’ who is to blame. A point brought home with amazing force by Evan Placey in his superb play Consensual being performed by the National Youth Theatre Rep as part of their 2015 season at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End.
Diane (Lauren Lyle) is 29 and seems to be very settled in life. She is a senior teacher, Head of Year 11 and is in a fairly standard marriage with one child already and a second on the way. She loves her job and her ‘children’ are lively and not afraid to speak their minds even when it comes to SRE (sex and relationship education to the rest of us) leading to interesting and graphic conversations about ‘healthy relationships’ and, what constitutes consent. All is well in Diane’s world until Freddie (Oscar Porter-Brentford) appears back in her life.
Seven years earlier – when Diane was working in pastoral care at school – the then 15 year old Freddie was a pupil with no mother and an alcoholic, abusive father who turned to the school for support. Diane became very close to Freddie, and on one night crosses a line with the young boy. Freddie now believes that he was taken advantage off by Diane and wants closure/revenge for the abuse he suffered. Diane, believes the opposite but in the world of operation Yewtree etc, who is going to believe her? As the story progresses, Diane’s life starts to unravel, until finally she confronts Freddie leading to a highly emotional end of the act.
Following an interval which gave the audience time to think about what they had seen and heard and make up their own minds about where guilt – if there was any – should lie, the second act took us back seven years to the night in question when Freddie turned up at Diane’s flat and the two of them crossed the staff member/pupil line.
My first reaction on leaving the theatre after seeing Consensual was ‘wow’ and this morning I still feel the same way. I have to say that this was an amazingly powerful piece and Evan Placey’s writing is spot on throughout.The show itself was really two one act plays. The first a delightful ensemble piece which really forces the audience to question not only their own knowledge of what they know to be right, but also their own moral codes and standards. The easiest thing in the world is to see a headline in a paper and make a judgement on someone else’s life but the reality is that people are different. There were many examples of this in the play as the ‘children’ in the class examined sex and sexuality from every angle – often saying things that probably made some older members of the audience squirm in their seats. Personally I would say that the first act should be shown to all schools as part of their SRE lessons. The cast delivered superbly not only in their acting and ‘singing’ – this old man thoroughly enjoyed the rapping – but in their general demeanour. They were obviously loving every minute of being a West End stage and every one of them deserved to be there.
The second act was a two hander which, through some wonderful writing, gave the audience a real view of the event from seven years previously. Whilst it was uncomfortable to watch, the scene was superbly done and this was down to some truly inspiring acting by Lauren and Oscar who were absolutely brilliant throughout the show. Lauren portrayed Diane as a strong willed lady who, in the first act, saw her life disintegrating around her to the point where she finally lost control and so much more as she broke down completely. In the second act, Lauren’s Diane, was younger and more naive in her approach to life – as demonstrated in the opening moments while she was on the phone to a friend after a night out – whose compassion for the tortured Freddie led to the events that would later come back to haunt her. Lauren was matched superbly with Oscar Porter-Brentford whose portrayal of Freddie was simply breathtaking. Freddie is such a complex creature to bring to life – sometimes a vulnerable child, desperate for affection and sometimes a strong independant man totally in control of every aspect of his life. Oscar really portrayed every aspect of Freddie’s character superbly making him utterly believable. From an audience point of view, Lauren and Oscar were an acting pairing made in heaven.
Consensual is a really wonderful, thought provoking play that from the start challenges preconceptions about life. Excellent writing combined with superb directing by Pia Furtado and an outstanding cast delivered a high energy, gripping performance of a powerful play that by the end had me questioning my own morals and knowing I had just watched something pretty awesome.
To finish then, if anyone ever worries about the future of British theatre then they should get themselves to the next NYT performance where they will realise it is in safe hands.
Review by Terry Eastham
Think of Sexual Relationship Education as a war zone and you’re the journalist. Give the facts, show the photos, but don’t get too close unless you want your head blown off.”
As Head of Year 11 Diane is meant to be implementing the new ‘Healthy Relationships’ curriculum. But then Freddie arrives. She hasn’t seen him since that night six years earlier when he was fifteen. She thinks he took advantage of her. He thinks she groomed him for months. But neither is sure.
The National Youth Theatre presents an explosive and thought-provoking piece of new writing from Evan Placey (Writers’ Guild Award winner) exploring what happens when buried secrets catch up with you. But when it comes to sex and consent, are there really any blurred lines?
West Street, London, WC2H 9ND
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Show Opened: 18th September 2015
Booking Until: 2nd December 2015
Last updated 8th October 2015