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Review: Consent, at Harold Pinter Theatre

Strong cast in bleakly funny play that follows a group of privileged professionals and paints a stark picture of the court system

12 June, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Claudie Blakley and Stephen Campbell Moore in Consent. Photo: Johan Persson

NINA Raine’s play about rape, the law and lawyers may seem very opportune in a “Me too” environment but it was written before the accusations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein hit the headlines and this is a re-cast transfer of an acclaimed production seen at the National Theatre in spring 2017.

It presents us with a group of upper middle-class barrister friends and begins when barrister Edward and his book editor wife Kitty are celebrating the birth of their first baby with Jake and Rachel, who are both barristers. Kitty is trying to set up actress friend Zara (who is about to audition for a TV lawyer role) with another friend Tim, who is prosecuting for the Crown in a rape case in which Ed represents the defendant.

At a legally necessary pre-trial meeting with Ed, Gayle, the working-class victim in that case, discovers how powerless she is under British law. Shocked and bewildered as Heather Craney makes her, she gains our sympathy in a way that these privileged professionals never could. As the play follows their marital problems and infidelities they seem as adversarial as they would be in court.

As questions of divorce, child custody, apology and forgiveness all rear their heads, Raine’s writing is often bleakly funny though painful to laugh at, its observation as accurate as its stark picture of a system in which even truth is limited by law.

Hildegard Bechtler’s setting, its furniture rising from beneath and various light fittings descending, aids the rapid movement of Roger Michell’s direction and its handling of sudden mood changes. It is also served by a strong cast with Claudie Blakley’s calm-seeming Kitty becoming vindictive and Stephen Campbell Moore magnificently managing the way complacent Ed cracks up in fury when legal lives echo legal cases and what one calls a “mercy-f**k” the other calls rape.

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