Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review Consensual

By Evan Placey

Cuckoo In The Nest
Along to the Ambassadors Theatre off Shaftesbury Avenue for the coming generation and the production of Consensual by Anglo-Canadian playwright Evan Placey, developed with the  National Youth Theatre Repertory Company.

And it all revolves around  teacher Diane (an excellent Lauren Lyle) as she navigates the classroom minefield and her relationship with pupil Freddie (Oscar Porter-Brentford growing in confidence as the play progressed) against a background of sexually charged music and media. Diane's subject being PSHE.


It's many years since TLT's schooldays when she and her 11+ contemporaries indulged in minor vandalism changing with the inky nibs of their cartridge pens  the title of text book The Road To Latin to The Road To Eating ... Anyway,  according to the first sentence in the Wikipedia entry PHSE was created in 1990 by Harry Styles.

In case you hadn't realised,  we think this may be the online equivalent of TLT's textbook graffiti (catch it, before someone corrects it, now we've pointed it out!).

PSHE stands for Personal, Social, Health And Economic, part of the National Curriculum since 2000, and by the look of it covering - just about everything which isn't otherwise in the syllabus. 

In TLT'S day, teachers taught the content of books. Now it looks like they have to teach - life or something like it. 

But isn't this often what a good play covers, personal, social, health and economic - in short life?

Directed by Pia Furtado with original accompanying music by Jim Hustwit, the play begins with pupils, seated in school chairs, their backs to us, as an audience. Before they break out from passive consumers to actors with, to use a cliché of youth theatre but in this case true, raw energy.   

The action takes place in two time zones. A drink in the pub in the present day. Bank employee Freddie accuses his former teacher 29 year old Diane, now heavily pregnant with her second child, of grooming and having sex with him seven years previously when he was a troubled 15 year old. 

 And Freddie has made a statement to police. 

Diane, at the time a teaching assistant, denies everything and this obviously catches the currency of the times

Meanwhile in her class there are swirling theoretical discussions amongst the kids intertwined with their personal insecurities, surrounded by porn, computer games and aggressive competition. 

Outside the classroom, the income tax affairs of Jake (Cole Edwards) Freddie's car mechanic brother  and Diane's well-connected husband Pete (Conor Neaves), enough of a new man to don a red apron for housework when necessary, tangle up to shape the conclusion of the case. A sub plot with a Pastoral Assistant Mary (Megan Parkinson) and sexually precocious schoolgirl Georgia (Grace Surey) mirrors Diane's and Freddie's tangled story as the scenes flash past us.

And the original charge? Innocence, criminality, wilful negligence, entrapment? Sex as a contract between two parties signifying consent or a battlefield in a larger arena?

Crouching below the stage, the students (after all maybe Sondheim got it just about right about children) watching like nesting chicks. Participants, a Greek chorus, a jury,  a paying audience consuming edited entertainment or any of these changing at will?

As we learn what may be the truth of the fatal attraction in the bedsit second act with its deliberately more traditional staging, Cecilia Carey's set design and costumes referencing another age give us a clue that all may not be as it seems.  

So lots of (satisfying) question marks in a filmic play by Evan Placey  reflective and self-reflexive channelling the concerns and vulnerable characters of the screen-led age, energetically and perceptively handled by ensemble cast and director, with Lauren Lyle giving a central absorbing performance as Diane. An amber/green light.

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