Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Consent; the Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Consent; the Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Article excerpt

It's like Raging Bull. The great Scorsese movie asks if a professional boxer can exclude violence from his family life. Nina Raine's new play Consent puts the same question to criminal barristers. We meet four lawyers engaged in cases of varying unpleasantness who like to share a drink after a long day in court. They gossip about the more horrific behaviour of their clients with frivolous and mocking detachment. But when their personal relationships start to falter under the strains of infidelity, they're unable to relinquish their professional expertise, and their homes become legalistic battlefields. This sounds like a small discovery but Raine turns it into a grand canvas. At her best she can create scenes that feel like eavesdropped conversation rather than hand-crafted dialogue. She writes male characters better than most male dramatists and she captures precisely the sinuous and competitive glibness of the masculine yuppie at play. Nor does she care if her characters fail the sympathy test. She presents people as they are -- lumpy, vain, malicious, self-deluding -- and she lets the actors add as much polish as they can find.

This is an unashamedly London play full of jokes about the Tube and 'renting in Zone Four' and it doesn't flinch from one of London's uglier truths. Residents of the capital regard all outsiders as imperfect human beings and therefore inherently comic. (Even provincial arrivistes like me assent to this prejudice.) In one extraordinary scene, two barristers offer tuition to an actress seeking a role as a TV lawyer. By playfully cross-examining each other they teach her the tricks and histrionic effects used by advocates to sway judges, to discredit witnesses, and to smuggle prejudices into the minds of juries. To cheat, that is, albeit within the rules. But the tutorial spirals out of control when the lawyers realise that each has a romantic interest in the actress, and their bantering exhibition-piece turns into a savage rutting session between two stags over a broody female.

Dramatic writing rarely combines so many virtues at once. It's original, astute, unnerving, sexy, funny, brutal, unpredictable and multilayered. The last play of this calibre that opened at the Dorfman was People, Places and Things. It transferred to New York via the West End. This is a better show, by some margin, and deserves to follow the same flightpath.

For actors, typecasting is a form of death. Hence the eternal romance between movie stars and the West End. …

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