Cindy Marcolina heads to the SOHO Theatre for the National Youth Theatre's revival of Consensual by Evan Placey.

Diane’s (Marilyn Nnadebe) life crumbles when Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton), an ex-student of hers, with whom she had sex when she was working as a teaching assistant, reports her to the police seven years after the fact. Now, with the gift of hindsight and a new awareness, she has to come to terms with what happened between them. Having to teach her class about healthy relationships and consent turns out to be a lot harder when she finds out that the skeletons in her closet might be coming out.

The National Youth Theatre revives Consensual, Evan Placey’s 2015 lesson on consent and blurred lines. The quick and snappy script crackles in the hands of the company, who juggle lighter moments of high-school banter and more complex debates. They discuss sexual maturity and peer pressure, eventually seeing first-hand how delicate the issue is.

Unfortunately, the production presents a huge split between the first, longer act and the second with a major inconsistency in tone, pace, and visual style. Pia Furtado’s direction comes to a halt, leaving the stage to what seems an entirely different play. While the first part incorporates ingenious use of school chairs and a desk to create various scenarios, it suddenly becomes a naturalistic representation of the flat of 22-year-old Diane, who welcomes 15-year-old Freddie in.

CONSENSUAL by Evan Placey. Photos: Helen Murray

What Placey’s script does wonderfully, though, is showing the ramifications and intricacy of the issue. While the kids ask how to understand when someone is saying “no” without actually speaking the word, what are the instances that lead to rape, when one can be considered mature enough to have a sexual relationship, the audience is faced with a wide spectrum of problems that don’t have a clear answer.

By putting the crowd in front of the events as they happened with the last act, the burden of deciding where to place the blame is moved to the auditorium. As witnesses, they also realise how complicated and multi-faceted the matter is and how easy it is to turn accountability into a game of hot potato.

The young company is dynamic and biting, with deliveries that go straight for the jugular. The students become a sort of Greek chorus for the protagonists, whose actions happen under their judgmental eyes. Hughes-Stanton and Nnadebe waltz easily between excruciating guilt and fear as the driving force of the plot. The sole actors on scene in the second act, they also change the tonality of their portrayals in line with the production, bringing their characters into new territory.

Ultimately, Consensual is a flawed show that, however, achieves its goal and starts a conversation. It succeeds in demonstrating the complexities that surround consent and sexual relationships and the devastating consequences that come from our actions.

★★☆☆☆

Consensual will play at the SOHO theatre until 9 November. More information and tickets can be found via their website here.