By Poojitha Dommata
Studio Brunel’s new committee brings its first production to the Antonin Artaud theatre on February 28th and 29th with the bold and disturbing play, ‘Consent.’
What strikes the audience of Nina Raine’s Consent immediately is its opening as each actor comes on to the stage repeating and almost incanting a statistical fact regarding sexual assault. A play about rape, particularly the discourse surrounding it, Consent takes it upon itself the mammoth task of representing the callous and often nonchalant nature of responses to victims of sexual assault, particularly in the courtroom. The new Studio Brunel committee’s first production for the Spring term, it is evident that with this play, they have challenged themselves by choosing such a heavy and discomfiting subject.
The play opens with a seemingly innocent party at Edward and Kity’s place (played by William Witt and Lysa Asiedu-Yeboa) who are welcoming their new child, Leo. They are joined by another couple Jake (Guy Mannion) and Rachel (Sarah Paul). Their banter soon takes a dark turn as they casually discuss rape and murder like one would discuss the weather. Five minutes into the scene and the audience is already initiated into this dystopia. Edward is a lawyer who is fighting a lawsuit levied by a rape victim Gayle (Holly Harris). She struggles to find representation as Tim (Giulio Tamburrini), the public prosecutor refuses to cooperate. As the play unfolds, various insights are revealed, not only regarding the inconsiderate and insensitive line of questioning practiced in courts, but also issues such as adultery and marital rape.
William Witt shines in the courtroom scenes as the cold and calculating lawyer who believes in logic more than empathy. His vast range effortlessly carries the audience through feelings of disgust towards his character and finally, pity.
Guy Mannion as Jake, the unfaithful husband and the serial womanizer is not only convincing but, in a twisted way, endearing as well. The audience could not help but laugh at him as he playfully says, “Do not use me as a yardstick for infidelity!” The clever interruptions of the courtroom scenes with scenes of domestic trouble in the two marriages are seamlessly carried out and delivered due to the clever direction by Lauren Lucy Cook. Lisa Asiedu-Yeboa and Sarah Paul’s portrayal of the two troubled wives is done with a lot of conviction and a hint of wit.
The sound and light technicians, Zuzia Gradzka and Alex Farrow offer excellent support to set the tone of the play which was clearly not an easy feat as the play oscillates frequently between the playful and the grim. The lights on each of the actors as they move in and out of the scenes onto the chairs placed at the back to continue repetitions of the statistical facts throughout the length of the play underlines the message that the issues being spoken about are not fictional, and are in fact very much a reality of present society.
Overall, the play was a poignant and thought-provoking portrayal of the culture around rape. It achieved what it set out to and more, as the play leaves us with a deep and unsettling discomfort. We are forced to question why society is still unsafe and exploitative of women and why, in spite of being obviously problematic, do we laugh and sympathise with the characters in it?