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NYT’s Consensual at the Ambassadors Theatre – ‘provocative’

The National Youth Theatre production of Consensual at the Ambassadors Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks The National Youth Theatre production of Consensual at the Ambassadors Theatre. Photo: Helen Maybanks

There are no clean moral lines in Evan Placey’s play. A commission for NYT, part of their autumn rep season in the West End, it’s an intentionally provocative examination of what it means to give consent which hinges on a sexual act between Freddie, a 15-year-old student, and his teacher, Diane, who’s 22. Their encounter is a complicated one: both of them are vulnerable in different ways, both awkwardly straddle the divide between child and adult, both make questionable decisions. It’s an event that will come back to haunt them seven years later when Freddie tracks down the now married and pregnant Diane blaming her for the path his life has taken.

Placey resists the urge to pass judgements. This is a play designed to spark debate and stir up its audience, and at times character development feels secondary to the issues being explored – this is particularly true of a subplot featuring Diane’s colleague, who makes the mistake of wanting her students to view her as a friend. Placey is much better at sketching the mixture of knowingness and naivety of sexual matters which permeates the classroom: the bravado, backchat and banter.

Despite a slightly uneven tone in the writing, which is sometimes taut and sharp, sometimes meandering and baggy, Pia Furtado’s production is very firmly anchored, emotionally and dramatically, by Scottish actress Lauren Lyle. Hers is the stand out performance of the 16-strong ensemble, complex, fallible, misguided but not unsympathetic: human.

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A provocative issue-driven play, designed to trigger debate about the nature of consent