Consensual is a play by British writer, Evan Placey. Mr Placey has written most of his plays with young audiences in mind. Consensual was commissioned by the National Youth Theatre Rep Company. It deals with sex and the classroom. It, like the 2006 film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, deals with a sexual relationship between a student and a teacher. Mr Placey’s award winning plays, he has said:
Never shy away from challenging discussion and exploration, so that it allows people, especially young people, to ponder issues and ask questions in a safe depersonalised environment.
Mr Placey has worked as a teacher, and like our own, Lachlan Philpott (Silent Disco) delves, with first-hand knowledge, into the world of our adolescent generations with fearsome honesty and challenge.
The long first act of the play, with a number of scenes, is set in a noisy contemporary co-ed classroom of adolescents, carrying the heating weight of burgeoning sexual curiosity, modern media exposure to it, and uncertain boundaries of acceptable behaviour around it. Diane, a young, heavily pregnant teacher (Laura Richardson) is teaching a sex education class and encounters robust debate with her charges, that is both knowingly provocative and comic but also crucially serious to their future actions and well-being.
Freddie (Paul Whiddon), a young insecure bank worker, having survived in a single parent household with an abusive alcoholic father, makes a complaint of sexual abuse to the police against his teacher, Diane, seven years after the alleged event. The consequences are complicated for us, particularly, as to what really transpired, as in recalled scenes, we are given an ambiguity to the behaviour of both the principals of the accusation.
The play jump cuts, from the present classroom and the outside interactions between Diane and Freddie; Diane and her new class of students and other staff-in-training, Mary, (Celeste Reardon); Diane and her husband, Pete (Benjamin Vickers); and with Freddie and his brother, Nathan (Rhys Johnson). The dramatic tensions are built with subtle accumulative detail, by the writer, to an almost unbearable ugliness that results in a terrible climax of consequence, before the interval.
The second act is set in the home of Diane seven years previous and we are shown the events of the accusation in real time. Freddie and Diane become engaged in a ‘dance’ of sexual tension. Is what transpires consensual or not? That is the debate, the discussion, for the audience after the play. It will be, certainly, an uncomfortable debate.
This is a very interesting and provocative play, ably directed by Johann Walraven, in two excellent set designs by Renee Halse, lit brashly and strikingly by Liam O’Keefe, in a cacophony of noisy, disconcertingly jangling music (sound design by Johann Walraven). The company of young actors in the classroom, give robust performances of a ‘frightening’, knowingly manipulative reality. Mr Vickers and Ms Reardon give good support to Mr Whiddon and to a secure and outstanding Ms Richardson. There is bravery in the principal performances worth noting.
Consensual is provocative and adult theatre, worth seeing. This was written with young adults in mind, take them. They should see it.
Company: New Theatre
Venue: New Theatre, King St, Newtown
Dates: 14 March – 15 April 2017
For more of Kevin Jackson’s theatre reviews, check out his blog at Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Australia Day (New Theatre) – theatre review
- Kindertransport (DTC) – theatre review
- Arbus & West (MTC) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television