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Needle-sharp story skewers a middle glass view of the world

REVIEW

Consent

Dorfman, National Theatre

★★★✩✩

IF a woman’s been drinking how can we trust her version of what really happened when a bloke climbed into her knickers? That’s the unspoken suggestion from Ben ‘Apple Tree Yard’ Chaplin’s urbane defence barrister Ed in Nina Raine’s new play as he cross-examines a woman who accuses her neighbour of rape. Not that Ed cares either way. He just cares about how to use words and inference to win a case.

Raine’s needle-sharp, often very funny play examines the slippery relationship between language, meaning and power, be it in the courtroom or the front room of Ed and his wife Kitty’s very middle-class new house.

Raine maps out the treacherous emotional battlefields between Ed and Kitty (the ever-fantastic Anna Maxwell Martin), their friends Rachel and adulterous Jake, and Tim and Zara, where the game-playing with ideas of truth and retributive justice will culminate in an accusation of marital rape. Save for a later, devastating scene, the original victim’s story fades from view. It’s frustrating to see a working-class story serve as a prop for a middle-class one: it’s not clear if this is a deliberate expression of an interest in the imbalance of social power, or an unwitting example of it.

Roger Michell’s supremely well-acted production also flirts dangerously with the tedious style of theatre in which well-educated people make articulate points while drinking white wine. It survives that risk thanks to Raine mercilessly skewering her characters’ self-deceptions. Definitely recommended.