• Leah Quinn

Nina Raine's Consent - all too relevant

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

I left the Harold Pinter Theatre last week feeling rejuvenated, impassioned and little confused. Consent the 2017 play by Nina Raine has been playing at Harold Pinter since May after its enormously successful debut at the National Theatre. Directed by Roger Michell and with a cast of only seven, the play investigates the intimacies of relationships, responsibility and love while also investigating the morality and realities of a flawed justice system.

TW: rape, mental health

Husband and wife, Ed and Kit (Stephen Campbell-Moore and Claudie Blakley) have just had a new baby. Ed is the barrister for the prosecution on a controversial rape trial and Kit was in editing and publication until the birth of their child. Now the couple battles all things work, romance and, for Kit, boredom as a new mum, while she still struggles to forgive her husband for an affair he had five years earlier. Their friends, also husband and wife duo, Jake (Adam James) and Rachel struggle through Jake’s infidelity. Although they decide not to divorce and supposedly reconcile their relationship, Rachel continues to comment on and blame Jake for the difficulties they have been through. While the relationship continues, Rachel shows us that the resentment remains. Then you have single, struggling and emotionally hyperactive actress Zara who the friends set up with their also single friend Tim, who happens to be the barrister for the defence on the same rape trial as Ed. And finally, Heather Craney playing both the victim of rape in the trial and a divorce lawyer later in the play.

Consent could not be any more relevant. In the days of #MeToo, where rape accusations are terrifyingly frequent in the media and understanding and empathy for the survivors is crucial, you also get the flip-side of those who argue for the grey area in rape: those people who don’t fight back or don’t say ‘no’ loud enough, and the controversial namings of those accused in public and on social media so, even if found not guilty, their names are scarred (some argue) for life. The play ebbs and flows with moments of complete triviality and humour, some of it involving ‘rape jokes’ from the likes of Ed and Tim who try to make light of the industry in which they work, and moments of startling, lump-in-your-throat seriousness. I think it plays beautifully and frighteningly on the fine line in society today between a totally light-hearted situation and conversation, and then suddenly something that is most definitely a crime. It asks where morality starts and ends and where ones responsibility lies and if the law is moral or if moral is law.

“You never say you’re sorry. You just say you apologise.”

Apologies pop up everywhere since the #MeToo Movement dug its roots in. We have those that are heart-felt and those that are just insultingly dismissive.

I apologise if I’ve made you feel that way.

Well you have, haven’t you? So, there’s no if about it.

Kit and Ed’s relationship struggles around the very idea of apologising. Kit the empath and Ed the rational clash while Ed fights his corner as any good lawyer can do to avoid having to apologise properly to Kit for the affair that’s damaged their marriage. Kit says that Ed has never said sorry to her for the affair, only I apologise – less personal, less guilty, less meaningful. Unable to forgive him, Kit plays with the idea of revenge and we see how the pros and cons of Kit’s revenge play out in both positive ways and deeply damaging ones.

Kit's relationship with motherhood felt like a relief for me. We see a deeply intelligent and previously full-time-working writer plunged into maternal monotony and being expected to enjoy it. We see her husband not understanding her boredom and frustration with having nothing to occupy her mind, and his understandable but still insensitive desire to have another baby with her, despite her mind and body not being at all recovered from the first birth. Since the 1950's and the start of accessible contraception, women have begun to take back control of if and when they want to have children. It's refreshing that Consent acknowledges that yes, we may be in the 21st Century and yes, we may have access (in the UK at least) to contraception but the expectation on women to reproduce and to want to remains and to do it more or less at the pleasure of our partners remains.

Mental health winds its way through most of Consent as it does with most of our lives. However, in Consent, mental health is frequently manufactured an insult towards women. First, we see the rape victim’s mental health and background brought up by the prosecution to discredit her and label her unworthy of trust while the rapist’s background (including previous assaults) is deemed ‘irrelevant’ to the trial. Then, Jake says Rachel is just paranoid and blames her mental instability for her lack of trust in him rather than her very rational knowledge of his infidelity. And, following difficulties in the marriage of Kit and Ed, Ed tries to gain custody of their child by deeming Kit mentally unstable. Time and time again, we see women’s mental health brought up to silence them. Their frequently entirely rational voices are muted by this one time twenty years ago when they may have suffered from depression, or this one time they had a drink, or this one time they did consent happily to sex. Now any behaviour of (frequently woman but also any) victims of sexual violence generally is brought up to discredit them. It’s sickening that this still rings true in the modern justice system when the idea of women’s hysteria (or hormonal madness) has echoed through history and, in my mind, should have remained in the 19th Century. The suffragettes were called hysterical and insane; the Magdalene Women were called sex addicts and ‘fallen’. It is infuriating that this discourse remains in our modern world and honestly refreshing that Consent acknowledges and condemns this.

While Nina Raine’s Consent was written before #MeToo took hold, sexual violence and injustice did not begin with Harvey Weinstein and both male and female survivors of sexual violence have been silenced and ignored by both society and frequently a flawed justice system for centuries. Consent asks us about our responsibilities, to the survivors, as civilians and as lawyers, as sympathetic humans capable of emotion and attempting to understand. We have responsibility to see the transgressions of our friends (like Jake) who, although lovable, may no longer be acting within the realms of morality and, when we see that, we have a responsibility to say something. I left the Harold Pinter Theatre buzzing as if someone had just given me an energy drink. This may all sound rather political (as a lot of what I say does) but sexual violence is not just political. You can choose not be into politics and you can choose not to vote and you can choose not to say anything when your friend is doing something that you know is wrong, but you can’t choose who the rapist picks. If you don’t want to argue for yourself, argue for your sons and daughters and friends and family. Argue for those who can’t argue for themselves.

That is what Consent does.

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