Tag Archives: National Theatre

National Theatre: Consent

Consent at the Harold Pinter
Consent at the Harold Pinter

Consent is what used to be called a “problem play”, an examination from various perspectives of a current hot topic. The topic in this case: consensual sex versus rape. The characters are almost all lawyers or lawyers wives, except for one: a woman from the working class who has been raped. Two of the lawyers are trying the case, one for the crown and the other as a defense lawyer appointed by the Crown to represent the accused, the alleged rapist. “Who’s my lawyer?” demands the victim, but the prosecutor won’t even talk to her; she’s not a plaintiff, but a witness, and he cannot be seen to be coaching her on her testimony.

Consent, photo by Photo by Johan Persson
Clare Foster, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lee Ingleby in Consent at Harold Pinter Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

The lawyers and wives engage in chit chat reminiscent of Sondheim’s Company, but we (and they) gradually learn that all is not as superficial as it seems. Infidelities and sexual power games break and rearrange the relationships, and the men (primarily) try to achieve some kind of understanding of their emotional lives. All this to the click of highballs and wine glasses. At the end of the first act, rough reality breaks in; the rape victim crashes the party and discovers that the two lawyers are friends.

In the second act, one of the wives throws her husband out. Begging forgiveness, he ignores her repeated “no” and they have sex. His friends are horrified: technically, they tell him, this is rape.

There are more facets, more issues to explore, but you get the idea. The script, by Nina Raine, is skillful, smart and sometimes funny. The issues are examined with a certain level of evenhandedness. There are no villains, just imperfect well-bred middle-class professionals doing their best to cope.

I liked the play, but I can’t overlook that it pulls its punches. We want to see those lawyers in court. We want to see a lot more of the working woman’s ordeal than we’re given. And we want to see what happens when the gentle people have their day in court. This never happens. There’s all these lawyers, and no courtroom fireworks? They just talk it out, make concessions and compromises, and life goes on. Cop out.


From Morning to Midnight, at the National

Written in 1912, Georg Kaiser’s expressionist drama From Morning to Midnight has been given a bravura treatment in a new version by Dennis Kelly. I joined the queue for day seats at 8:30 on a Wednesday, and snagged two matinee tickets, along with two evening tickets for the second preview of King Lear. What a day of theatre it was!

The National production of From Morning to Midnight achieves an unusual balance between spectacular special effects, and the actors manipulating scenic elements. A snowstorm, for example, begins with actors shaking out sheets, an effect which expands to cover the stage with surging and rolling white cloth. Lovely. At another point, an office set piece is flown upwards, trapping a bewildered actor inside. It is even more impressive that the invention never flags, From start to finish there are surprises.

The plot is the familiar expressionist morality tale, showing society grinding down a character who tries to assert  individuality. A bank clerk, a cog in a monstrous machine, absconds with a large sum of money, and spends a day using the money to find the meaning of life, or rather, the spark of human energy. He seeks through family life (his own family), sex (a fancy brothel), mass enthusiasm (a bicycle race) and religion (a Salvation Army prayer meeting). At every stage, illusions are stripped away.

The path is familiar, so the sights and sounds of the journey are what really matter. And in this, the production succeeds thoroughly. The actors, sharing roles in ensemble fashion, create a multitude of characters, always vivid and clear. Adam Godley, as the Clerk, carries the show on his narrow shoulders with great panache.

A wonderful opportunity to see an important work fully realized.

Protest Song, at The Shed

The Shed, at the National
The Shed, at the National

The Occupy movement in London had its camp in the square outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, a location that was already occupied by “rough sleepers”, the current British term for what in North Armerica are called “street people”. A new one-person play, Protest Song, by Tim Price, imagines the interaction between one rough sleeper, Danny, and the young idealists who are inventing a new mode of human interaction on the fly.

The play was produced by the National Theatre in The Shed, a large red cube squatting in the forecourt of the National Theatre complex. It is a temporary structure replacing the wonderful, quirky little Cottesloe, which is currently being reconfigured into something to be called The Dorfman Theatre. The Shed is a marvel of prefabrication, steel platforms and walkways surrounding a central playing area,  with chain-link fencing held together by plastic tie-line. There’s an anything-goes feel to it that seems appropriate to the play.

Danny, played with vigour by Rhys Ifans, starts off pan-handling the audience. He’s also collecting phone numbers to store on a mobile phone, to prove to a well-meaning social worker that he is rehabilitating himself. Once that is over with, he starts the story of the Occupy camp, how his initial resentment and disdain is gradually overcome, how he find his voice speaking over the “human microphone”, how he learns that “the politics” matters to him too. In time, however, his street-schooled behaviour clashes with the middle-class values of his new friends, and he is expelled. At the end, he curses the Occupy movement for ruining his life “because you gave me hope”.

This was a powerful evening at the theatre, and it is a fine thing that The National would tackle the subject of the Occupy movement, and treat it sympathetically. Still though . . .

The issues, and the commitment of the participants in the Occupation, are distanced by the playwright’s choice of Danny as the observer. The protest is an exotic event, involving strange lovable people ,that rises up around him and disappears, leaving the world as it was. Danny rails against the unfairness of having his equilibrium disturbed by an illusion. We are left with an impression of naive middle-class idealistic youngsters having a bit of fun before the real world knocks some sense into them. What was happening outside St. Paul’s was something more difficult, more dangerous and more vital that Danny understands, or the play delivers. I missed that.