The National Youth Theatre REP Company’s new season of work kicks off with a vital story exploring issues of sex and consent. Written by Evan Placey, Consensual centers around a teacher whose past involvement with a 15-year-old student resurfaces when he turns up with questions for her. Even though the direction feels awkward at times, the strong ensemble brings to life Placey’s play amicably, with some terrific stand out performances dotted throughout.
Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) is in charge of her school’s Healthy Relationships curriculum, teaching her students about consent. But when Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton) turns up claiming she groomed him when he was fifteen, she is forced to look back at the night they spent together seven years ago. While Diane struggles to make sense of what happened, teacher Mary (Laurie Ogden) is getting closer to her student Georgia (Alice Vilanculo), which becomes extremely problematic when Georgia finds herself in a tough situation with her boyfriend.
Nnadebe’s performance as Diane is occasionally excessive, but she is a strong lead who brings to life the character with passion and good comic timing. Along with Hughes-Stanton’s childish yet vehement Freddie, the subject matter is tackled head-on and unashamedly. Their interactions can be hard to watch, in particular in the second half of the play when they get intimate, but this just adds to the undiscerning situation these characters have found themselves in.
The ensemble’s high energy in the classroom scenes is amusing, but they often can be overly animated which soon begins to feel garish and cringe-worthy, especially during scene changes where they sing and rap. While Pia Furtado’s direction appears clumsy in these scenes, the intimacy she creates in others is delightful and allows the performers to stand out. In particular, when Vilanculo’s self-assured yet vulnerable Georgia shares a scene with Ogden’s timid but attentive teacher Mary, it’s both hilarious and moving. The pair has a great connection on stage.
As the play makes clear, conversations about sex and consent are very relevant to young people and should be a vital part of the national curriculum. Even though some points about healthy relationships are missed because of the quick pace of the piece, the overall performance is effective and enjoyable. The cast works well together and it’s clear they’re having fun on stage, which is always a joy to experience.
Consensual is at Soho Theatre until 9th November.