THEATRE REVIEW: Consensual – National Youth Theatre Rep Company – Soho Theatre  

This year’s NYT rep season opened with a timely revival of Evan Placey’s fine, topical 2015 play which asks many more questions about the complexity of sexual consent than it answers.

The first half takes us to a school where married, mother of one, pregnant teacher Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) is trying to “deliver” sexual relationships education to a cheerfully unruly group. At the same time she must confront Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton)  a student from seven years back who has reappeared in her life with an agenda. The powerful second act rewinds seven years so we see what actually happened. Thus the central issue is examined from a range of angles.

Nnadebe is a fabulous actor. Totally natural as the teacher struggling to control a volatile classroom liberally but appropriately,  she is  also convincing at home as the troubled wife and mother. Her awkward body language – partly the pregnancy and partly social discomfort –  is beautifully observed. Then she sheds seven years and is suddenly lithe, long haired and drunk sobering up quickly and bantering with the teenage Freddie. Any teacher watching this will wince and want to call her away to safety. It’s a really terrific performance.

And Hughes-Stanton matches her, appearing first as the inadequate, flawed 20-something who works in a bank and who contacts his former teacher. There’s a fine, perfectly written scene with his brother (Jay Mailer) in which the two actors play off each other with real truthfulness and invisible acting. And I shall long treasure the image of Hughes-Stanton sitting on the sofa eating biscuits in Diane’s flat when she is utterly devastated but he’s too young and crassly unaware to understand.

The ensemble work in the first half is energetic although, well directed (by Pia Furtado) as it is, I think the song dance interludes are gratuitous.  They’re well enough done but they distract from the thrust of the play. The classroom scenes are a delight though with a lot of humour gleaming through the issues. So are the conversations between Laurie Ogden as Mary, a young teacher and Georgia (Alice Vilanculo) an apparently confident student whose life is actually pretty troubled.

The Rep company is the top tier of NYT’s work. It offers funded professional training, based on a West End season for an ensemble selected from the membership. Consensual plays alongside Victoria’s Knickers and Macbeth.

Review by Susan Elkin