Review - Consent at the Harold Pinter Theatre
The National Theatre continues its winning streak of transfers to the West End, which in the last nine months has already yielded the world premiere of David Eldridge's Beginning (which moved to the Ambassadors) and the British premiere of the Tony-winning play Oslo (which moved to the Pinter). Now comes Consent (again to the Pinter), Nina Raine's blistering account of the despair of marital betrayals. Played out amongst two sets of couples - all of whom are lawyers - it demonstrates, with a wounding intensity, just how much it costs each of the parties.
While it may play out amongst monied, articulate professionals - whose business, of course, is adversarial argument - there's no disguising the beating human heart of pain that runs through it. As such, it picks up and rides on the back of other marital-themed dramas - from Harold Pinter's Betrayal and Peter Nichols's Passion Play to Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing - to provide a high-stakes drama that really ups the ante of the West End to deal with contemporary life in all its brutal complexity. It's the anti-date night play. (It's also the second play in recent memory to feature amongst its cast a real, live baby, after The Ferryman).
Substantially re-cast since its original run at the National's Dorfman in April 2017, it now features Stephen Campbell Moore and Claudie Blakley as new parents Edward and Kitty, and Adam James (held over from the NT cast) and Sian Clifford as their friends Jake and Rachel whose relationship is in the balance after an infidelity. Edward and Jake are also opposing barristers working on the same case of alleged rape, on which hinge the woman's consent, or lack of.
These issues are extremely live right now - just last week Sweden passed a law recognising that sex without explicit mutual consent constitutes rape. As a senior policy adviser on women's rights at Amnesty International in Sweden told The Observer, "It won't shift the burden of proof but it will strengthen the burden of explanation. Perpetrators will have to able to explain how they checked the other person wanted to voluntarily participate in sexual activity; there should be physical and verbal cues."
But the special thrill of Raine's play - and a production that articulates its shifting perspectives with keen precision by Roger Michell - is that it doesn't present a cut-and-dried case but constantly offers different explanations. It is acted with an alternately bracing and bruising intelligence that keeps all the characters vivid and alive.
Consent tickets are available now.