Outhouse Theatre Co
Originally Published at: Consent – Seymour Centre (NSW) (theatrethoughtsaus.online)
Outhouse Theatre Co presents Nina Raine’s Consent in its Australian premiere. Written in 2017, Consent is a British domestic revenge drama which follows a group of accomplished, upper middle class thirty somethings navigating their worlds of love, career, and boundaries. The plot is driven by a contentious rape case which serves as a backdrop to the personal lives of the lawyers.
The entire work is filled with questions of consent, not just sexual but emotional and personal. We see the couples dispute and argue, question and advocate while leaving the audience to adjudicate, as if we are the jury, forced to decide where guilt and injustice takes place. This was challenging because the characters are so flawed, in extremely relatable ways. As soon as you start empathising with one character, they go and do something deceitful and cutting. In an unexpected conclusion, each central character comes full circle getting hit in the face by the consequences of their actions.
Photos by Phil Erbacher
The text is fast, witty, and cutting; the dialogue filled with gaslighting, legalese, and vulgar, emotionally bruising jokes. It wasn’t just the rape jokes; it was their mordant delivery. It was hearing a barrister and crown prosecutor casually discussing tools like weaponised language which they use in rape and murder cases to undermine parties. But as much as it is confronting, it is humorous, as much as it revolves around heavy themes, it examines human nature and the rollercoaster of life.
Eliza Scott’s sound design utilised an eclectic mix of human vocals, electronic sounds, and percussion. The music was an extremely powerful tool used particularly in conjunction with the character Gayle to reinforce her traumatised state. Exploring unaccompanied, haunting humming vocals, gasping breaths and percussive heart beats, the discordant harmonies, poorly tuned intervals, and irregular time signatures intensified the jarring mood and put the audience on the edge of our seats.
The set depicted multiple locations which was clarified with titles projected onto the top of the back wall. Soham Apte’s set and costume designs were simple and informative; particularly around class and character, transporting us from different homes, to work, to the courtroom and back with simple furniture and lighting changes. A panelled glass wall stretched across the width of the stage about halfway back, bringing the staging nearer to the audience and facilitating an intimate, homely setting as well as adding dimension and location when lit from behind to be a window rather than wall. Ryan McDonald’s lighting drove the need for few set changes with the lighting so clearly informing us of time and place.
Anna Samson shone in the role of the admirable yet ultimately revengeful Kitty. Despite being still in her portrayal, there was a fiery bubbling undercurrent present throughout her performance which exploded in her climactic argument with Ed. Her portrayal was so affecting and understated. Playing opposite in the role of Ed was Nic English. He executed this privileged, self-indulgent character with a great understanding of his classist background in a very genuine performance.
Jeremy Waters excelled as the often drunk, infidel who adored his children and had no problem calling out his own and his friends often despicable behaviour. Waters oozed British smarm and had faultless comedic timing which heightened his and the rest of the ensembles’ performance.
Jennifer Rani brilliantly embodied the intelligent and warm Rachel, giving an extremely human and generous performance. Anna Skellern brought great depth to what could have been a relatively two-dimensional character in her portrayal of Zara. She was unapologetic, poignant and relatable. In the role of Tim, Sam O’Sullivan gave a very entertaining performance, epitomising the posh yet slimy character hilariously.
In the role of Gayle, the rape victim reporting her assault was Jessica Bell. So often the portrayal of a helpless victim can be (understandably) wallowing, but Bell’s characterisation painted Gayle as an incredibly strong, articulate, and intelligent woman. Her strength and determination made the pain more devastating; her performance was gut wrenchingly raw and moving.
In an interview with Toasting Aussie Theatre, Anna Samson discussed the work that went into presenting characters who are so familiar with each other; spouses, long-time friends, and lovers – and this was so apparent and readable on stage. Directed by Craig Baldwin, the performance is superbly grounded in humanity and how applicable and relevant consent is to every facet of our lives.
Consent brilliantly demonstrates how assault and breaching consent doesn’t discriminate, how easily it can happen to you no matter your physical strength, privilege, or upbringing. While the themes throughout the work are extremely heavy, Consent isn’t two hours of trauma and trigger warnings, it’s as much about our human interactions, interpersonal relationships, and an examination of our legal system. The work is written to challenge, educate and provoke thought and discussion, and the Outhouse Theatre Co team can be confident their performance achieved exactly that.