Review: Consensual (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 15, 2017
Playwright: Evan Placey
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Callum Alexander, Michael Brindley, Claire Crighton, Rhys Johnson, Eloise Martin-Jones, Eliza Nicholls, Eamon O’Flynn, Celeste Reardon, Lauren Richardson, Natasha Rose, Anton Smilek, Nicole Toum,
Benjamin Vickers, Paul Whiddon, Emma Wright
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Freddie was a 15 year-old schoolboy when a sexual tryst occurred between himself and his teacher, Diane. Seven years later, a confrontation takes place, with Freddie accusing Diane of rape. In Consensual, playwright Evan Placey poses a challenge to our ethics, not only in terms of what we consider to be sexual assault and what constitutes consent, but also how, as individuals and as society, we determine what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. The play is as much about where to draw the line, as it is about how we find consensus in the way that line should be drawn.

Placey’s gripping drama is often outrageous, but balance is offered by ethical and intellectual investigations that are as considered as they are controversial. Urging us to respond on levels that are both emotional and logical, the play leads us to experience states of struggle and confusion, while we attempt to negotiate right from wrong in all the grey areas of what we see on stage, and in those of our own real world experiences. Characters in Consensual are believable and quite frighteningly, we relate to all of them. Even when we wish to castigate certain behaviour, we understand the fallibility on display, and realise how easy it is to make those same mistakes.

Freddie is played by Paul Whiddon, perfectly cast as the male Lolita, vulnerable yet seductive, manipulative yet naive. We see a man domineering with his sexuality, as well as a lost boy not knowing what he is getting himself into. Whiddon brings a level of authenticity to the show that is quite arresting, allowing us to observe clearly, all the conflicting nuances that make his story so provocative.

Lauren Richardson takes on the highly complex role of Diane, portraying concurrent but contradictory layers of truth that has the audience squirming in nervousness. Some of her motivations could be played with greater conviction, so that the climactic moment can ring truer, but it is an accomplished performance that reveals the disconcerting depths of Diane’s story.

A strong ensemble of extraordinarily engaging young actors make up the high school classroom, typically rambunctious but surprisingly (and unnervingly) grown up in their exchanges about sex. Particularly impressive is Callum Alexander whose excellent focus and commitment, makes the supporting part of the very wise Nathan, especially memorable.

Production design is simple but effective. Renee Halse’s set and Liam O’Keefe’s lights are polished, efficient and unobtrusive, while music composer Nicky D’Silva’s exciting electronica in scene transitions, brings great vigour to the stage. Director Johann Walraven’s exhibits a valuable talent in making Consensual both intelligent and entertaining. More detailed work in dramaturgy would give greater finesse, but the show is nonetheless engrossing.

A child wants ice cream morning, noon and night. No amount of explanation could make the consequences more real than the yearning they experience. Likewise with teenagers and sex. Adults must protect the young, even when they appear headstrong with what they wish to explore. Sex and relationships are complicated, and we will continue to make mistakes no matter how grown up we feel, but as long as the more experienced can keep a watchful eye, the minimisation of harm must always be a priority.

www.newtheatre.org.au