Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 1 – 24, 2023
Playwright: Nina Raine
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Jessica Bell, Nic English, Sam O’Sullivan, Jennifer Rani, Anna Samson, Anna Skellern, Jeremy Waters
Images by Phil Erbacher
Kitty never forgave her husband Ed’s indiscretions from five years ago, so their marriage remains strained even with the arrival of a new baby. Meanwhile, Ed serves as a barrister prosecuting against rape allegations, in which we see the victim being treated with little compassion or fairness. Nina Raine’s Consent explores bodily transgressions within differing realms, stretching the notion of consent to cover issues from sexual assault to infidelity.
The play’s attempts to draw parallels can feel somewhat tenuous, and uncomfortable in its tendencies to diminish the severity of rape, in favour of a more intensive discussion about adultery. There is a sadistic pleasure in watching a group of affluent lawyers go through emotional turmoil, but it can prove challenging to evoke genuine empathy, for entitled personalities who only have themselves to blame for their strife.
The production is directed by Craig Baldwin, who emphasizes emotional authenticity in portraying the numerous arguments that characterize this play about bickering posh couples. Baldwin demonstrates admirable integrity by resisting excessive humiliation of the characters, although this approach can sometimes miss opportunities for bigger laughs. The staging honours the text’s central ideas about betrayal, but the unsavoury personalities of Consent prevent us from fully engaging in a sufficiently meaningful way.
Design aspects are however accomplished effectively. Soham Apte’s sets and costumes are satisfyingly theatrical, yet bear a sense of accuracy in their depictions of a world inhabited by lawyers and their spouses. Lights by Ryan McDonald provide visual finesse, always aiming for polish without ever being obtrusive. Eliza Jean Scott’s segments of interstitial music are creatively rendered, offering us momentary reprieve from intense altercations, whilst manufacturing an air of refinement appropriate to the piece.
Anna Samson and Nic English play Kitty and Ed respectively, both highly believable in their execution of this domestic drama, with an intricacy in approach that encourages us to bring nuance to our interpretations of the story. Also bringing vim and vigour are Jessica Bell, Sam O’Sullivan, Jennifer Rani, Anna Skellern and Jeremy Waters, who conspire to bring energy to an experience that can very easily become overly cerebral.
It certainly feels awful to be cheated on, but it is audacious to say that it is in some ways similar, to having suffered sexual assault. We all understand human fallibility, yet we continue to hang on to old ways of thinking about monogamy and marriage. On one hand, we understand the nature of lust, including its inevitable superficiality, and on the other, we insist on defining the success of marital unions, on the ability of individuals to prevent themselves from committing these sins that ultimately mean little. Yes, rape and infidelity are forms of betrayal, but they are far from commensurate.