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Review: Nina Raine's funny, sharp and intelligent Consent, National Theatre

Consent-2160x2160Playwright Nina Raine's previous plays have tackled social integration in the deaf community and the NHS, in Consent she takes on justice and the notion of consent.

At the centre of the play is a rape case which two lawyer friends are working on - Edward (Ben Chaplin) is defending and Tim (Pip Carter) is prosecuting. However, this isn't a courtroom drama, instead it focuses on how the case challenges and resonates through the relationships of Edward, Tim and their circle of friends.

Edward and Kitty (Anna Maxwell Martin) have just had their first baby and Edward wants another but Kitty isn't keen. There are tensions in Jake (Adam James) and Rachel's (Priyanga Burford) marriage as Rachel suspects he is having an affair and bit-part actress Zara (Daisy Haggard) is desperate for a baby but can't seem to find the right man - could the slightly dull Tim be the perfect match?

Gayle (Heather Craney), the victim in the rape trial lives a world away from the privileged friends but her case raises questions of how justice is best served. Is cold objectivity best or should the process allow for some empathy? It is far more complex than it initially seems. On the one hand an emotional detachment seems to be the fairest approach but, when the barristers cross examination technique is dissected, it reveals it to be a game of cold intellectual chess, more about winning than perhaps what is morally right.

The short trial scene is one that will come back to haunt the men and their relationships. As the friends dissect the trial over a glass of something nice and a spliff, it exposes their own flaws, frustrations and prejudices - and the fragility of their relationships.

This is Nina Raine's best work to date. Keenly observed, it is funny, sharp, sad and intelligent but above all from start to finish it is a roller coaster ride. Some plays are interesting and thought provoking, some make you laugh, some are tragic, some are entertaining but, together with A* performances, Consent manages to be all of these things. Can you ask for anything more from a night at the theatre?

I'm giving it five stars. It's two hours and 20 minutes including an interval and is on the Dorfman stage at the National Theatre until 17 May.

My reviews of Nina Raine's other plays:

Tribes, Royal Court ****

Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre ****