Thursday, May 30, 2024

Consent

Consent
Writer: Nina Raine
Director: Craig Baldwin
Seymour Centre
June 3-24, 2023

The law is based in inequality as it was from the beginning a means of upholding the ruling class, and its practising representatives, despite change, are mostly white upper middle-class males. In Consent, Nina Raine takes a vigorous, sharp and often witty look at the purveyors of legal justice and, while a case of disputed consent is central to the structure of the play, Raine turns her spotlight on what women consent to when they say “I do”, and what we consent to as members of society.

The opening of the play sets it firmly within the bubble of socio-economic privilege of legal families as Ed (Nic English) and Kitty (Anna Samson) celebrate the birth of their son with friends, Jake (Jeremy Waters) and Rachel (Jennifer Rani). There are false notes in the image the two successful lawyers would like to have of themselves (beautifully supported by the reflective window) as Kitty looks exhausted and depressed while Rachel subtly separates herself from the overly cheery and salty mouthed Jake. Later, Kitty announces she feels there is trouble in their marriage but the logical Ed is dismissive of basing conclusions on empathy with others.

Ed’s commitment to a dispassionate stance disguises insensitivity. The rape case in which Ed is to defend the alleged rapist and his friend Tim (Sam O’Sullivan) to act as Public Prosecutor for the complainant, Gayle, has a familiar scenario. The defendant is certain Gayle agreed and Gayle is adamant she did not. When Tim, as Public Prosecutor, tries to explain to Gayle why her accuser can have a lawyer and she can’t, and later why the previous convictions of the accused can’t be mentioned but her history of depression can be used against her, the law is shown not only biased but beyond the grasp of ordinary folk. However, it is much more repellent to hear Ed’s smart alec and heartless analysis of his winning strategy, and when Gayle forcefully breaks into his private life, it is a perfect reversal. Kitty is to identify this as the moment her marriage faltered, although in fact, it was already flawed.

It becomes apparent that having a child was more Ed’s need than Kitty’s and maybe a “solution” to a relationship already frayed. She has not settled comfortably into motherhood, misses being the almost-equal-Kitty-with-a-job and is unwilling to have another child. She sees this as her decision but later she is reproached by her friend Zara (Anna Skellern) – who wants a relationship and a child – for not giving Ed what he wants. “Giving” is a telling word in this context and clearly expresses male privilege and expectation of Kitty’s nuptial “I do”. Kitty is to reveal how much she resents childbirth later screaming that she “was nearly split in half” having Leo, and Ed to reveal his view by the number of times he repeats “my son”. There are two separate and possibly irreconcilable personal scripts here. Who is willing to rewrite theirs? And then, again, what would be the personal price?

Raine has placed the audience in the position of passing judgement on representatives of a well-educated elite responsible for maintaining an orderly society, representatives who are enormously flawed in their personal relationships and for whom the law is a clever game. Is it funny when a lawyer says cheerily, “I’m doing a lot of raping lately” to a colleague, and what are the boundaries between private lives and public functions?

A stimulating play and challenging for actors who perform with thoughtful and often brilliant conviction characters whom – ultimately – we cannot really like. Both their slipperiness and their dizzying self-obsession is so perfectly replicated in the mirroring back drop (Soham Apte) and their uneasy relationship with each other and themselves in the musical score (Eliza Jean Scott).

 

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