Adam James interview - 'Nina Raine wrote my character in Consent with me in mind'

After premiering at the National’s Dorfman last year, Consent, Nina Raine’s blistering play about family, rape, friendship and the law, transferred to the West End, opening to floods of five-star reviews at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

Adam James is part of the original company who has transferred with the play. His previous work with Raine includes Tiger Country and Rabbit, and he also played the Prime Minister in Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III.

We caught up with James to talk about, among other things, morals, football and babies…  

We are going to chat about Consent, but first I have to ask you, are you a football fan?

Not particularly. I was a maniac for Tottenham as a child, and I’ll watch England when they’re playing, but I’m far from a die-hard football fan.

For some actors, I’m sure the idea of performing when England are playing is a bit gutting, have you ever had a similar conflict of interest in a job?

Apart from my inherent laziness I don’t think that’s been a problem. The good weather doesn’t really make it easy. Although I have to say so far, the matinees have been incredibly well-attended.

Maybe that’s because the Harold Pinter is so well air conditioned…?

Actually, there’s a secret to that. It’s why most film studios are freezing cold; ‘cold for comedy’ is what they say. The minute any theatre gets a bit hot everyone falls asleep. Ideally, you want it to be cold to keep everyone bright, alert and not falling asleep.

Would you describe Consent as a comedy, then, despite it dealing with such a delicate subject?

Yes. I think it’s very human. That’s just Nina’s brilliant observation and ear on the human condition and the human spirit in situations you can find yourself in. For example, dinner parties can be really funny at one minute, and take a rather ugly turn the next; I think that’s just the nature of people, and she’s aware of the power of that and sort of stinging an audience with something so raw and painful but then making them laugh the next minute.

You’ve said before that you think Nina wrote the character of Jake with you in mind. Why, and do you know if that’s definitely the case?

I do know that’s the case. I think this is about the fourth play of Nina’s that I’ve done and obviously we’ve become very good friends. We’ve shared a lot of time together and like all good writers, she’s a kleptomaniac. You have to be really careful around them. I think she’s just enjoyed our friendship and me as a human being and a personality of sorts, and has compiled a character with a lot of my facets in it, needless to say life experiences.

Consent is a morality play, and our attitudes towards certain things shift over time. Do you view the play any differently to when you did it at the National?

I’m in a different point in my life from when we first did it, and working with a very different company. I found with the characters of Edward and Kitty, played by Stephen and Claudie, they’re far more empathetic than when we played them at the National. But it’s also where I am now in my life. I had a new-born son at the time and now I have a son who’s almost 22 months as well as a 17-year-old daughter and I think all of those things take a toll on one’s own empathy.

Speaking of small children, you start the play holding a real-life baby, which seems to take the audience by surprise…

Using a real baby unlocks the scene in a different way that none of us could’ve anticipated. It’s actually one of my favourite scenes and its one of the easiest and happiest ways to start a play. It’s brilliant and it sets a tone for the audience and it really disarms them in all the right ways. It focuses the audience immediately.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

What do you hope someone will take away from Consent?

I hope it’s a play that challenges people’s perceptions all the time, and makes them change their sympathies. I hope their perceptions and prejudices get shifted and moved around, and create debate within themselves and with the people that they bring to see it.

In the next few months you’ll be starring in the new Johnny English film as Pegasus, and you also played the Prime Minister in King Charles III. Do you enjoy playing these kinds of authority role?

I think I’m drawn to those kind of characters as they’re strong, and I love irreverence. I’d like to do a bit more of that which I why I think working with Mike and Nina has happened so often. We struck a happy chord between being irreverent and playing slightly on the surface dislikeable characters.

Do you think Jake in Consent is likeable?

I think he is. He’s a man who’s aware of his own flaws and eventually admits to those. I don’t think he’s a bad or villainous human being; he’s a man who has made mistakes and I don’t know too many people who have not made those kind of mistakes.

In hindsight, asking you if you like a character that is based on you is probably a pretty stupid question!

Well facets within it, but yes! I do think he’s a terrific character. It’s a classic trope of what Nina does; the amount of feedback I’ve had from audience members who say ‘I just hated you in the first half’, and by the second half they’ll be won over by him.

Consent is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11th August.

Consent tickets are available now.

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