Hannah Butler reviews Consent at the Bike Shed Theatre on January 21st as part of the From Devon with Love Festival.
Not many plays greet arriving audiences with a still of a porn scene. Yet as the chatter and bustle of an audience taking their seats filtered through the auditorium, four actors were already positioned on stage. In shadow and for now anonymous, the intimate arrangement of two of these actors quickly turned heads, provoking more than a few murmurs. For good reason, too – especially after at least ten minutes of hovering in what must have been an excruciatingly cramp-inducing stance. This exercise in discomfort proved, however, incredibly fitting for what continued to be a challenging yet intriguing insight into an extremely uncomfortable issue.
Consent, a short yet highly provocative play by Eye Level Theatre Company, follows the court case of porn actors Tiffany Carey (Jenny Hall) and Brad Cox (Jordan Edgington), after Tiffany accuses her co-star of raping her on set. During the trial, lawyers Timothy Dormer (Ross Green) and Helen Parker (Samantha Theobald-Roe) interrogate both Tiffany and Brad, bringing to light strong issues and conflicting viewpoints about rape and consent.
Despite the small and intimate setting of the Bike Shed Theatre, use of spotlighting and different levels made the performance feel dynamic and exciting. Interspersing the courtroom scene with flashbacks to the porn shoot in question allowed Hall and Edgington to display remarkable versatility of performance, in switching between defendant and porn actor within a few seconds.
Pitting Brad, a student working part-time in porn to support his degree against Tiffany, an experienced porn worker, the play seemed to challenge ideas of vulnerability and power. I’m sure that, at times, others were like myself thoroughly taken in by the powerful rhetoric used by the lawyer defending Brad’s case. The performance seemed to play devil’s advocate, deliberately making the attacks against Tiffany’s accusation appear convincing and logical, whilst evoking frustration and sympathy on her behalf as her lawyer spoke. Green and Theobald-Roe gave excellent performances of lawyers manipulating both audiences and, at times, each other.
The play made no secret of its intended message regarding our attitudes towards women who claim to have been raped. However, the fact that the play closed before a verdict was given meant that we as the audience didn’t feel like students being lectured on a subject with a foregone conclusion. The play avoided being condescending; it felt like audiences weren’t there to learn a lesson, rather to act as jury and deliver their own verdicts. However, the intended reaction seemed all too obvious, as the lights came on and a version of Robin Thicke’s controversial hit began playing above the buzz of conversation. A reluctant smile ensued, as I recognised the tune and noted its appropriateness. In a provocative, stimulating and entertaining way, Consent challenged fundamental assumptions and perceptions of rape and consent, and where boundaries lie – or should lie. Blurred lines, indeed.
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