Fred Hughes-Stanton (left) and Marilyn Nnadebe as Freddie and Diane
Review: Consensual11:25, 26th October 2018
A solid play that tackles difficult issues.
The emotional tightrope involved with working with young people is often left out of discussions about teaching. How do we expect someone to meaningfully interact with young people without building a relationship? Why do we place graduates in their early 20s (i.e. people who have spent the majority of their life being educated) in positions where they are expected to be responsible for educating people who are only a few years younger than them? Consensual asks difficult questions like these as it examines the borders that exist in human interaction.
Marilyn Nnadebe puts in a great performance as Diane, the teacher whose life is turned upside-down by the re-emergence of Freddie, a student that she once had a close relationship with seven years before the narrative begins. In the first act, we see Diane and Freddie wrestle with the events of a particular night – one which Diane would rather forget and one which Freddie cannot. Through the dialogue, it’s made clear that Freddie is a complex person and Fred Hughes-Stanton manages to capture the character’s mercurial nature well. Indeed, what I initially took for a stilted and awkward delivery is better understood as the narrative unfolds and we learn more about Freddie’s past. In the second act, the audience is shown what happened on that fateful night and both Nnadebe and Hughes-Stanton give convincing portrayals of what their characters were like seven years ago.
The story of Diane and Freddie is told in between scenes set in Diane’s sex and relationship education classes, where she navigates through the minefield created by the questions of her boisterous students – who have a lot of practical experience, but know very little theory. The ensemble cast portrays a very convincing group of teenagers through their movement and dialogue, which sounds authentic in both content and delivery. On the whole, the script is well-written but there were a few narrative plot threads which just ended abruptly. Ending a narrative with uncertainty is fine as it gives the audience something to go away with but they will only do that if they’ve been given enough reason to care about the characters. A few more minutes of the sort of detailed dialogue that the script does well and the intended gut-punches at the end of the first act would have floored me.
In terms of staging, I was not a fan of the overly elaborate set changes which included loud EDM, coloured lighting and rap from actors whose flow was mixed. At times it worked, such as at the very start of the play, but in other places it just felt quite jarring.
The set design in the second act was really good – a perfect portrayal of the sort of small flat that someone on Diane’s wage could afford, replete with a tiny CRT TV and a single-door fridge. The technical aspects of the show really helped to elevate the emotional aspects of the drama – whether that was the subtle soundscape of the street beyond the flat or the use of lighting to intensify the more emotionally-charged interactions between Freddie and Diane.
Ultimately, this is a play that needs to be seen to be best understood. It serves as a solid exploration of the human cost of working with vulnerable young people, asking important questions that have no easy answer. If this sounds like something that you could trust your sixth-form students to engage with, I would encourage you to take them along.
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