Interview with Evan Placey, writer of Consensual9:00, 22nd October 2018
Consensual is a 2015 play that explores the dynamics at play in teacher-pupil relationships. It is currently running at the Soho Theatre until 9 November as part of the National Youth Theatre’s 2018 West End REP season. The play’s writer Evan Placey took the time to tell us more
What makes drama a good way of exploring the issues seen in your play?
I think part of what the play does is explore memory and context. In a lot of these sensitive discussions, nuance is often what gets lost and we want to see everything in a really black and white way.
I was really interested in exploring a story which is unique to these two characters in the play that explores some of the grey and examines how people rearticulate their past experiences or come to understand them in new ways. Through the play, I’m placing the audience in a position where they see the events through the eyes of both characters and try to make sense of what has happened as the characters are doing the same thing. The structure of the play is that Act I all takes place in the fallout after this boy comes back into the life of this woman, and Act II takes us back to the evening of the alleged incident and we get to see for ourselves what happened and to try and make sense of it.
The play premiered in 2015 – Do you think that anything has changed since then regarding the ideas you are exploring?
Yes, massively! Obviously, the #MeToo movement has been a huge game changer in how we understand consent, sexual abuse and harassment and how we give a voice to people. I absolutely think that the way the play will be viewed will be slightly different, or at least seen through a new lens. When I re-looked at the play, I had a conversation about whether I should be updating things and actually I felt that would be the wrong thing to do because the story is still the story and I’m interested to see how an audience will view it in this new climate.
You mentioned the #MeToo movement, which has focussed on men in positions of power. Your play has a woman in a position of power with a teenage boy as her accuser. How do you find that power dynamic of the teacher/student interacts with the gender dynamic?
Part of what the play explores is that in the minds of both characters, they were the one who was wronged. There were aspects of what may or may not have happened to which neither consented. Even though we understand that the adult is the person in the position of power and trust – that is very black and white – the fact that the adult here is a woman and the victim is a man means that it is slightly different because of the overlapping power dynamics. In Act II, we explore a story where we see the nuance of what took place, that while this young man is a victim, he still had agency at the time. I don’t want to put an opinion on that but the play is about exploring the idea that the power he has as a man exists even if, in another aspect of the relationship, he does not have power because he’s an underage pupil.
How have the cast been responding to the play compared to when you did it in 2015?
They’re bringing this new lens to it, obviously, and have a lot of things to say about it. They have different opinions depending on different viewpoints, both their own and that of their character. There were plenty of debates in the rehearsal room about what people feel has come out of the story. I wasn’t interested in writing a story where someone is right and someone is wrong but I wanted to present these two characters and ask how they speak to you.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know?
I want to say that there is some humour along with the humanity in the play – I think sometimes in the description it can sound quite harrowing! It’s actually about the class of young people who are taught by this woman also trying to make sense of their gender and sexual identity. I wouldn’t want the topic to put any teachers off from bringing their students to the play!
Consensual will be at Soho Theatre from Monday 22 October to Friday 9 November as part of the 2018 NYT REP season. nyt.org.uk