A Question of Consent
The Rag Factory
A Question of Consent is based upon the memories and experiences of a woman close to the theatre company who was groomed and then raped on a daily basis. The production focuses on the circumstances in which the event occurred and how Stockholm syndrome developed.
The Rag Factory, like many found spaces of the same era, has tiled walls which lend an institutional feeling to the performance area. As they are white and the floor is also pale, there is a cold and clinical atmosphere which compliments the genuine chill felt by the audience who didn’t take their coats off.
This sparseness is carried through to the performance area, which is defined only by two walls and the promenade seating on two sides. Aside from a guitar and stool, the production features no props or scenery and even the costumes are kept simple with plain linen trousers and tops. At the beginning of the piece, two actors are dressed in white and two in black; by the end, one character wears both colours. The audience can deduce from this whatever they wish.
Whilst I respect the obvious passion poured into this production and appreciate that the result is Method-based (with the cast trained in the process), this is a difficult piece of theatre to watch as both a spectator and reviewer. Whilst theatre can indeed be cathartic, I am not sure who the catharsis affects regarding this production. The drive for ‘authenticity’ creates emotional performances that do indeed feel more realistic than classical naturalistic acting but whether this deep level of emotion is sustainable for an entire run will remain to be seen.
This semi-improvised approach also has a dual effect. As the audience genuinely become voyeurs watching something very private, the overall pace and momentum of the piece slows considerably. This freshness in the performances also means that occasionally the actors get lost in the moment and forget to project.
Whilst I acknowledge that the company is trying to break away from theatrical convention, there are a few structural issues, including the largely unresolved tension between the brothers that reminds us that not all convention is bad. Equally, after so much heightened emotion, the ending to the piece is abrupt with a Q and A session beginning before the audience have fully registered that the play is over.
The decision to narrate the lighting changes is an interesting choice that does remind us that we are watching a play rather than a slice of real life. The inclusion is curious, however, given how little illusion is included elsewhere and how theatrical ‘blackout’ can sound even if there isn’t an actual blackout.
The subject matter is deliberately provocative. Watching systematic abuse should not be a comfortable experience. The level of emotion, however, almost makes it look like performing in the production is a form of abuse, particularly given that the press release references that the company has created the piece ‘over the last 6 months rigorously and through mental and physical exhaustion.’
The result is strong performances that are indeed raw and free of ‘theatricality.’ Julia Benze as the abused girl is particularly captivating and interacts beautifully with the rest of the cast.
It will be intriguing to see the next steps taken by this company, which is clearly very committed to this style of work. It does not patronise its audience and has a core of talented performers who are now trained in this process.
A Question of Consent is a fascinating debut which, enjoy it or not, brings a strange intensity to the performance space.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston