Brighton Fringe 2022
Directed by Scott Roberts, Production Manager Ian Black, Set Construction Simon Glazier, George Walter, Lighting Design Emma Shiel, Sound Design and Marketing James Michael Maltby.
Stage Management Team Sophie Nunns, Carrie Hynds, Natalie Sacks, Erin Burbridge. Light Operation Matt Foster, Sound Operation Esmé Bird. Poster/Programme Ian Amos.
Till June 4th
Nina Raine’s Consent – premiered at the National’s Dorfman in 2017 – is an engrossing dissection of law dispensing with justice, which almost never gets to the courtroom: we’re once there and in a lobby, but the tangled domestics of lawyers who discuss cases, indeed oppose each other in court, form and dissolve little courts in drawing rooms with champagne.
Raine’s is a tight professional world. Most of her plays revisit characters in her first, Rabbit. The doctor there spawns the magnificent Tiger Country, and lawyers this work. It’s brilliant, if slightly flawed.
Scott Roberts’ revival actually improves on the National’s, with one actor in particular outpacing her counterpart; and making an entrance in a different place banishes one glaring glitch and turns the ambivalent ending into something explosive.
Roberts’ seamlessly direction is aided by clever lighting by Emma Shiel highlighting parts of the rooms as we sometimes ping-pong two separate evenings into one; and spotlight harrowing. A shadow of a window suggests day and night-light and at the end of Act One, Christmas lights.
Design construction team Simon Glazier, George Walter opt for elegance. Lucent grey walls with two sofas, sometimes with dust sheets, sometimes people, leaving space bare enough for words to hit the intimate audience like jurors.
Victoria Storm’s Kitty, long married to Will Mytum’s remote Edward, celebrates her gingerly-handled baby. Unlike her barrister spouse and friends she’s an editor, suavely witty, shrouding bitterness. From the outset language is sexualized. Kitty mentions head-size and pride in vaginal deliveries, which Brad Glen’s Jake mouths ‘respect’ to but it’s his wife Rachel (Kasha Goodenough) whom Kitty suspects uses sexualized language. Bonds are provisional.
Soon the quartet argue Jake’s infidelity, Rachel’s lack of forgiveness, added to with Kitty’s actor friend Zara (Karina Mills) rehearsing Medea and being lined up for bachelor Nik Balfe’s Classics-trained Tim, the man Edward will oppose in court.
A tangle of delayed attraction (Zara wants love and a child but not yet Tim), desperation and Medea’s wounded justice percolates through all the women as Jake’s obvious braggadocio is tactically reconciled to Rachel’s edgy conditionals. ‘What’s wrong with a bit of vengeance?’ Kitty asks elsewhere. Legal skills are deployed but confused.
Throughout these disputes, a woman friend takes the man’s part and visa versa. Raine avoids clouding her central premise with male or female bonding; it underlines the instability of all smug intimacies. More, it strips barrister skills to an essence of opposing narratives, as Edward admits. And the need to win undermining whether right is done, as in The Winslow Boy.
Raine shows how agonies become bon-mots but never entirely cynical to these lawyers. Tim simply says of a client that she’s right. But then with poltergeists and BO to deal with, he’s pitied. Balfe moves from tolerated loser to someone who leaves a woman to return to another, in a state bordering courtroom triumph. Balfe’s sinewy body language too exudes clever geek who can seize moments.
Mytum’s Edward by contrast peacocks his invulnerability, even to saying ‘sorry’ for a past transgression. He’s lithe and dangerous, if no match for Glen’s peace-brokering heft. It’s a word haunting the remainder of the play. Mytum’s gleaming carapace terminally alienates Storm’s sinewy, complex Kitty, waiting for simple key words.
Raine’s superb constructing an intimate privileged dynamics too, where Zara’s economic living in Zone 4 is indulged. So when Maya Katherine’s alleged rape victim Gayle accidentally meets Tim who technically can’t hear any additional information as he represents her (get round that) we’re catapulted into a haunting of Gayle’s injustice. Her mental health history can be used against her (we discover shocking details) but her assailant’s can’t be.
Chilly Edward wins out over Tim, who’s disappointed with Gayle’s performance. He’s perhaps more impressed when Gayle turns up at the Christmas party accusing both sides – smugly sofa’d – of complicity.
Katherine projects Gayle’s plain-speaking with helpless force and naked eloquence; to us, the jury, it’s piercingly direct. She finds a ferocity in the truth of Gayle that outstrips anyone in this role. Her gate-crashing has agency, breaks into a class war.
It’s a fine, if faintly incredible moment, but Katherine banishes that. Raine needs victims to penetrate the sanctum: she engineers this when Kitty’s next move with Tim precipitates a response from Edward and she charges him with marital rape.
This not only brings out the quartet’s courtroom tendencies (Rachel and Jake take opposing sides, naturally) but throw up finally male/male and female/female spats: Mytum and Balfe square up predictably but Storm’s and Mills’ confrontation (Kitty’s revenge-poached but got tangled) finally releases Zara’s Medea, where a friendship’s torn apart out of the adversarial tropes of law for once. Mills, with little opportunity till now, rises often magnificently (if occasionally shrilly) to this scene, where she and Storm give of their best in tearing and flinching. She’s also good as the nearly mute sexual object of Tim and already-married Ed as Mytum and Balfe spar and cockfight in legalese.
Though less central, Goodenough’s Rachel smoulderingly inches back to Glen’s heedless priapism, suggesting a chilly regard for the chilly Edward. Glen’s laddish Jake threads his way to decency where he could have caricatured. Goodenough who starts a little too intensely, finds many other notes in the second act, gaining complexity and paradox. Glen’s consummate as the more obviously blokey if instinctually prescient lawyer of the three; a burly arbiter of right and wrongdoing.
The denouement too, inverting several scenes earlier powerfully projects the messiness of people who can’t stop or have just started feeling. We’re left to judge right actions on the judges. But victims of injustice can’t indulge that privilege. And Roberts has moved an awkward moment to a point where it resolves two points with one masterful stroke.
Storm is querulous, warm, witty, wholly in tune as Kitty. Mytum too is a revelation. There’s a moment Storm hesitates not wanting to verbalise denial, and can’t. It’s quite stunning. These actors live every moment of Raine’s text. The scenes between these two are electrifying enough, but Mylum with Balfe is just as fine, Balfe here gaining in cubits as he takes on tricky nuances.
Erin McHugh has the knack of edging family lawyer Laura to the pinched side of advice. A fine cameo where meeting both parties telescopes into an overlapping shouting match.
It’s an absorbing, absorbingly constructed play, putting barristers on trial but balancing personal and political with enormous deftness, never alienating us. Raine balances articulate ferocity with its opposite: a broken plea, and not just from Gayle.
Consent’s clean logic and logic-chopping with consequences, amplified with a pinch of myth, indeed poltergeists, in Roberts’ hands proves a small classic. He paces this more briskly than I recall in the original, with the essential diametrics between actors sharply etched as if in a neon cat’s cradle.
Reviewers shouldn’t usually add personal witness, but this one was once foreman of a rape trial, where two witnesses flew back from Australia to confirm what they saw. Despite this, one juror said it was a Martian, another that her judge husband said you shouldn’t convict in rape (breaking jury silence); most opted for ‘attempted’; I was alone. But the judge on a miraculous technicality awarded full sentence. Congratulating me afterwards for holding out, fellow-jurors declared they were happy with the outcome. That’s what we’re up against.