British playwright Evan Placey’s CONSENSUAL, the current play at the New Theatre, is a confronting, highly charged drama. A play written for, and about, some of the challenges that face young people today, it is one of the best of its kind that I have seen.
Johann Walraven’s sensitive, finely honed production serves the piece well.
The play is set in the classroom of a co-educational high school. Most of the classes we ‘sit in on’ are sex education classes, so yes, as you can imagine the classes are amusing and raucous.
The centrepiece of the set design is a large chalkboard filled with all sorts of adolescent student graffiti. Scattered around the stage are a number of student desks. A raspy, edgy soundscape underscores the action on stage.
Lauren Richardson is heartbreaking in the central role as high school teacher Diane. Her performance does not miss a beat.
Diane’s career is going fine, she is in a good relationship with her lawyer partner, Pete (Benjamin Vickers), and they are expecting their first child. All is good, that is until someone from her past makes a visit.
That person is Freddie, a former student of hers, now in his early twenties and working in a bank.
Five years previously, the pair had a sexual encounter late one night after Freddie turned up unannounced at her apartment after having yet another blazing row with his father. Diane was just 22 then, a naive young teacher’s assistant, who had become emotionally close to one of her favourite students.
Freddie confronts Diane about what happened. He claims that Diane groomed him, then just fifteen – a minor, for sex. He wants to take the matter to the police.
Paul Whiddon as Freddie, gives a strong performance as the villain of the piece.
The bulk of a largish supporting cast comprise actors playing a motley group of students very well. These students also play the role of observers, witnesses, to some of the action that takes place.
In its structure, the play reminded me of Harold Pinter’s classic play, Betrayal, in that the final scene takes us back in time to the very time when the fateful seduction took place.
The two qualities about CONSENSUAL that I admired the most were : – its authenticity – there were no ‘false notes’ in the characters and the situations that took place, and the plays’ non judgmental nature.
Whereas many plays want audiences to take sides with one of the leading characters, this was not the case with Placey’s work. I found myself equally having empathy with Diane and Freddie’s plight and how easy it is for us all too vulnerable humans to fall through life’s cracks and then find ourselves in all sorts of woe.
Recommended, Evan Placey’s CONSENSUAL is playing the New Theatre, King Street, Newtown until April 15.