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Theatre Review: Consensual @ Soho Theatre

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There are always two sides to every story, but when it comes to a subject as taboo as a student-teacher relationship, we rarely take the time to hear the other side. Most people wouId consider a relationship between a grown man and a 15-year-old girl pedophilia, but what happens to people’s perceptions when the roles are reversed, and it’s a 22-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy?

Evan Placey’s play “Consensual” puts a question mark to the simplicity of right and wrong in age and relationships, challenging the norm, and raising the question: Is it possible to put an age to consent, or is this an individual process?

In this revival of the play written for the National Youth Theatre in 2015, and this time performed by the 2018 NYT reps, Marilyn Nnadebe plays the role of Diane, the 29-year-old heavily pregnant teacher, who suddenly gets a blast from the past when the 22-year old-Freddie, played by Fred Hughes-Stanton, informs her that he is pressing charges about a night 7 years in the past, where Diane (according to Freddie) abused her power as a teacher’s assistant to seduce him.

Image: Helen Murray

The first act explores the impact of a case like this on the people involved, their lives, their relationships, workplace and self-view, as well as how both parties could feel like they were the one taken advantage of. The scenes between Diane and her husband, Pete are very strong in clarifying how much Diane has to lose. Oseloka Obi has a very powerful stage presence and in playing the loving husband who will do anything for his family, his strong masculine energy resonates, and creates a visible contrast between the man and the boy, when Pete and Freddie meet.

Though the character of Freddie is never a fully grown man, Fred Hughes-Stanton delivers the contrast between his two playing ages - 22 in act 1 and 15 in act 2 - impressively well, and his deliverance is definitely one of the highlights of the show. The Freddie as a man being very subtle and still in his movements contrasted to the teenage energy that bubbles over in the 15-year-old Freddie.

Another gripping element is new teacher, Mary’s (Laurie Ogden) struggle to help the fierce and funny Georgia (Alice Vilanculo) through her difficulties. It’s quick and snappy, and the audience loves every moment these two actresses get to present their contrasting characters.

The complex emotional journey of Diane is portrayed beautifully by Marilyn Nnadebe, who manages to find a colourful expression to navigate the shock of the situation, while at the same time playing pregnant and an authority figure for a class of highly hormonal year 10s in SRE class – Sex and Relationship Education. It is in these classes, and breaks between scenes, that the National Youth Rep really gets to shine, and the banter and jokes between the classmates are the comic relief needed to counterbalance the heavy subject.

The show is very well directed by Pia Furtado, and especially the ensemble scenes and scenes changes are well-coordinated and smooth, which creates subtle and yet remarkable differences to the characters. The musical elements (musical direction by Jim Hustwit) fit seamlessly as part of the teenage school life, and the set’s simplicity works appropriately. An example is the scene between Freddie and his brother Jake (Jay Mailer) and how some chairs and a sheet becomes an auto repair shop. This scene is also very touching, and it is in the relation between Freddie and Jay that we start seeing signs that Freddie might actually be affected by what happened.

In the end Pia Furtado’s production keeps the audience on their toes. The only thing missing is certain clarity for the audience, as we are very much left hanging after the 7 year flashback, wishing to know a bit more about the present. The ideal might be that Evan Placey would write a third act to this story, that once again confernts these subjects that are so relevant and perhaps made even more pertinent given the current societal barometer. Even as the play ends, the audience still has to make up their minds, as when it comes to alcohol, sex and relationships the world is rarely black and white.

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