Consensual at the Ambassadors Theatre
Playwright Evan Placey shows the difficulty of navigating the muddy waters of sexuality between adolescence and adulthood in Consensual, his boisterous, thought-provoking new play, running on selected dates at the Ambassadors Theatre until December. An incident between a student and teacher seven years ago is at the centre of the action, which then expands to take in a nuanced exploration of differing understandings of consent.
A strong ensemble cast gives the ring of truth to performances which blend humour and drama, while tension is developed through a series of convincing character failings and misunderstandings. Placey paints each incident in shades of grey, showing us the subtle and, at times, unconscious ways in which characters manipulate each other. Oscar Porter-Brentford portrays student Freddie’s blend of vulnerability and adolescent guile with convincing subtlety, while Lauren Lyle is credible as Freddie’s erstwhile teacher Diane.
Various subplots dovetail into the main storyline and highlight the uncertainties of consent in relationships of all sorts, including same-age, casual and long-term. Did Diane really groom Freddie for sex? How much coercion is involved in everyday sexual encounters? Who really holds the power and can anyone truly understand the intricacies?
Their swearing, coarse humour and adolescent bluster highlight the students’ vulnerability in a way that adult viewers will find touching, and younger viewers authentic. While teenagers are really the play’s focus, rather than simply a device for exploration of consent, their blunt and lively debates ensure the audience is engaged with the ethical questions at its core.
Consensual is part of the 2015 season for the National Youth Theatre, an established charity which provides practical theatre experience for budding acting and technical talent. It is no surprise, then, that Consensual is of a quality on par with professional West End productions. Skilfully directed by Pia Furtado, some scene changes utilise brief but significant musical performances which segue smoothly into typical classroom clowning. Fast-paced scenes are complemented by quick and clever set changes – Temujin Gill is the play’s movement director – while dynamic motion ensures the actors bring an appropriately vibrant energy to their performances and make full use of the small stage.
A funny and ferocious interrogation of consent in today’s society, Consensual is a gripping play that will leave audiences with more questions than answers. And with issues this important, that can only be a good thing.
J A Clarke
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Consensual is on at the Ambassadors Theatre from 18th September until 2nd December 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch playwright Evan Placey talk about writing for younger audiences here: