Pros: An unflinching look at a horrific subject; raw, emotional performances from the entire cast.
Cons: Graphic scenes of abuse make this performance agonizing to watch. Despite the harrowing subject matter, the play lacks momentum and the improvised dialogue allowed scenes to drag.
A Question of Consent is based on the true story of a woman who was kept in captivity and raped on a daily basis. This woman is a close friend of CRAFT Theatre Company and has allowed the company to share her experiences on the stage. The show is currently playing at The Rag Factory, a venue dedicated to providing an affordable rehearsal and performance space. It’s a grim and austere setting, so cold that most of the audience kept their coats on throughout the performance, and so is well suited to the play’s dark subject matter. A Question of Consent is not a fun evening out but an uncomfortable experience from start to finish.
Iulia Benze plays the young woman (none of the characters are given names), who is the victim of abuse. At the start of the play, she breaks up with her loving boyfriend (Ryan Prescott) in order to make a fresh start at university. Following a housing crisis, she finds lodging with an elderly man (Lucas John Mahoney, who is considerably younger than his character though still exceedingly disturbing). From the beginning of their relationship, the old man is possessive of the young woman and this soon escalates into sexual abuse. There is also a subplot about the boyfriend and the fractious relationship he has with his brother (Kurt Murray). The play explores the shifting power dynamic between abuser and victim and shows how Stockholm syndrome can occur. It contains carefully-choreographed and disturbing scenes of sexual violence.
My programme informed me that director Rocky Rodriguez Jr. trained the actors for seven months following a specific technique of his own devising. He writes ‘I train the authors through physical exhaustion and identity deconstruction techniques. These platforms of training have a profound effect on the actor, their presences and change the way they approach their lives.’ Physical exhaustion? As soon as I read this, it became impossible not to think of the play as having a meta level, wherein Rodriguez was the abuser, physically exhausting his actors/victim in order to achieve moving performances.
The fruits of Rodriguez’s labour are that the performances from all the cast are emotional and raw. Yet despite this, and the harrowing subject matter, the play is oddly lacking in momentum. I suspect CRAFT were too deferential to the source material. The plot needs shaping in order to be dramatically satisfying. For instance, the subplot with the two brothers served no purpose, as far as I could tell. I found myself frequently looking at my watch, motivated both by boredom and the hope that I wouldn’t have to watch any more horrific scenes of sexual violence.
Another problem might be the use of improvisation. Though the actors know the plot’s basic structure, they improvise the dialogue in order to stay in the moment and make each performance unique. While this technique did make the language sound remarkably realistic, it also caused scenes to drag.
A Question of Consent presents true experiences, unfiltered and raw. It is shocking and brutal, but I fear it is not storytelling. Perhaps the material is currently too close to the hearts of its creators; more distance and perspective is needed to make this into a meaningful piece of theatre. It is missing the lens of fiction, which focuses life.
Author: Devised by CRAFT Theatre
Director: Rocky Rodriguez Jr.
Producer: CRAFT Theatre
Booking Until: 2nd February 2014
Booking Link: http://craft.ticketsource.co.uk/