The National Youth Theatre REP Company have revived the thought-provoking and critically acclaimed play by Evan Placey (Writers’ Guild Award winner), Consensual, for the first time. Now showing at the Soho Theatre, its associate director Anna Niland talks to us about the play and its connection to sex, consent, the #metoo movement and sex education in the UK.
Sex and consent is quite a hot topic in the midst of the #metoo movement. Do we feel that theatre has a role to play in raising political and sensitive issues?
For me, theatre is a space where we can and should explore and investigate life and that includes the sensitive issues of sex and consent which are central to the play. It is vital to me that theatre is relevant and provocative. It offers a space where we can be brave and bold, and that braveness is something we encourage in the REP Company.
What kind of things did you do to explore the play before you started directed Consensual?
The REP Company rehearsal room is a very open one and while preparing for the show we talked a lot about consent, what we felt the play was highlighting and how we could punctuate this. We wanted to interrogate: what the roles of men and women are in this piece; through what lens we want the audience to see the play our responsibility in telling this story; why we feel it is so important to shine a light on abuse of power whilst exposing and exploring the grey area of consent
While working on Consensual did you think about growing up and being a teenager again?
Yes, and also being a parent to two teenage girls I thought it was important to get their perspective on the play. My eldest daughter who is the same age as the school class in Act 1 came and spoke to the company about what music she felt they would be listening to. In fact, she created a playlist for the opening of the show which we will be using as pre-show music. She also spoke about life in a London comprehensive school and pressure from social media and friendship groups. It was very enlightening for us all.
How do you think the audience will feel after seeing Consensual, or how would you like them to feel after seeing the show?
I think and hope the show will raise important discussions and encourage people of all ages to share their views and experiences. The last time we put this play on there was a big reaction to the piece. Fours years later, a lot has happened as a result of the #metoo campaign, so we will see whether it’s still as relevant. I suspect that it is.
Do you personally think there is enough education about consent in general (outside of the UK or outside)?
In my personal opinion, at the moment, there certainly isn’t enough education on consent, and this is something we also look at in the play. I also believe it should be part of learning from a young age and as part of the run of Consensual we are going to offer a workshop on consent led by Out of Joint’s Gina Abolins, who was awarded a Tonic Theatre Award last year and is a leading voice in UK theatre’s response to #metoo.
What inspires you the most about theatre directing?
I am passionate about training and working with young actors, directing is only part of this. For me, it’s the whole holistic approach to developing work with a company of young actors and creatives. I love working with a writer and designer from the gestation of an idea through to the Research and Development period, then to rehearsal and into performance; watching the play and the young actors then develop in front of an audience. I feel extremely privileged to work at the National Youth Theatre where we can offer opportunities like the REP for free, helping to make theatre more accessible and inclusive.
Consensual is running at the Soho Theatre from 22 October – 9 November as part of the National Youth Theatre’s West End REP Season. Click here for more information. For the Soho Theatre, website click her. West End REP Season also includes Victoria’s Knickers at Soho Theatre from 27 October – 10 November and Macbeth at the Garrick Theatre from 20 November – 7 December.
Header image: Marilyn Nnadebe as Diane and Fred Hughes-Stanton as Freddie in #NYTConsensual.