by Nina Raine
16 – 25 February 2023
Why is Justice blind? Is she impartial? Or is she blinkered? Friends Ed and Tim take opposing briefs in a rape case. The key witness is a woman whose life seems a world away from theirs. At home, their own lives begin to unravel as every version of the truth is challenged. Consent, Nina Raine's powerful, painful, funny play, sifts the evidence from every side and puts Justice herself in the dock. It premiered as a co-production between the National Theatre and Out of Joint, directed by Roger Michell at the National Theatre in 2017, and transferred to the West End in 2018. It was shortlisted for the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Photos: Keith Orton
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive”. These words by Sir Walter Scott undoubtedly reflect the substance of this powerful play. Tangled, it certainly is, with relationships between couples and friends creating the unexpected, together with the underlining of the assuredness and even pomposity of those at the top of the legal profession.
Kitty and Edward are celebrating the happy birth of their son Leo with friends Rachel and Jake. With the exception of Kitty, all three are barristers and the opening scene allows them to be erudite, challenge each other’s thinking and, particularly Edward, show off their legalistic skills. Disconcertingly they initially refer to themselves as their clients, confusing the audience with statements like “I am doing a lot of raping” and it takes a short while to realise that they are the lawyers defending their client for a crime like rape.
The ’f’’ word is strewn copiously throughout the whole play – slightly shocking at first but later becoming mundane so that it loses some of its heft. Author Nina Raine brings the shock back with the ‘c’ word in Act II.
There are two main story threads. One follows two allegations of rape and how it is handled by the legal system and the other follows infidelity within marriage and its damaging and unpredictable consequences. A third lesser thread deals with the desire of Zara, an actor with a ticking time clock to have a baby, who is so understandingly played by Gail Bishop.
Set in the round, the scenes on the ‘floor’ are of the well-appointed flats of Kitty and Edward and Rachel and Jake. The almost bare stage is left for an anti-room at court and the courtroom itself. Cleverly designed by Gail Bishop the set has a simplicity of furniture and the essence of a kitchen, leaving space for times when the area combines two scenes happening almost simultaneously – a most effective device.
Faultlessly rehearsed, the cast created characters who had known and interacted with each other for years, making it easy to understand how much of each other’s history they knew.
Paul Dineen made a superb debut at the Miller in his pivotal role as Edward, moving seamlessly from bumptious all-knowing lawyer to a man pleading, on his knees, for his wife to forgive his adultery. Elke Desanghere made an equally superb debut as his wife Kitty – a believable first-time mum and one harbouring a long-term resentment against Edward’s philandering. Kitty’s decision to beat him at his own game by having an affair with Edward’s friend Tim added more complications. Appearing for the prosecution in the central rape case – against Edward who is defending, Tim was more of a gentle soul given more humanity and concern by Jonathan Dolling.
Jake and Rachel also have a small son whom Jake idolises, but their marriage is rocky too. Jake was given full angry explosive moments by Jay Rolfe whilst Juliette Nebel gave Rachel less heated observances on legal discussions.
Pamela Cuthill took on the demanding and carefully delivered role of Gayle who had been raped and was trying to fathom her way through the legalese. Her fiery entrance, using a steady Scottish accent, denouncing the lawyers at the end of Act I was notable and in complete contrast to her second role as Laura – a cut-glass speaking consultant to Kitty, who sought advice on what transpires to be the second rape of the play which was marital rape.
The strong language and strong acting which dealt with a subject much discussed in the news, particularly following the #MeToo Movement, gave much food for thought and it was, I consider, quite a courageous step to present it on this stage.
All praise then to Director Penny Parker and her talented cast for all their notable expertise.