Robert Tanitch reviews Consensual at Ambassador’s Theatre, London WC2.
The National Youth Theatre REP Company was launched in 2012 in response to the rising cost of formal acting training. It gives 16 young people the chance to hone their craft completely free of charge and with bursary assistance for living expenses.
The actors spend nine months on an intense industry-based programme, which culminates in a ten week repertory season in the West End performing three plays.
Helen Mirren points out in a programme note that The NYT Rep Company “is really important at this moment in time because it’s very difficult for working class young people to get into theatre.”
Mirren had become a member of the National Youth Theatre at the age of eighteen. In 1965 when she was nineteen, she was cast as Cleopatra in the NYT production of Antony and Cleopatra at theOld Vic, which led to her being offered work by the RSC and launching her distinguished career.
Other actors who began at NYT include Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Chiwetel Ejifor, Colin Firth, Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley and Rosamund Pike.
The plays this year are adaptations of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights plusConsensual, a new play by Evan Placey about sex and consent.
The first act of Consensual is set in a comprehensive school. A pregnant school teacher is teaching a class of 15-year-olds about Healthy Relationships when a former pupil, whom she hasn’t seen in six years, accuses her of having had sex with him when he was fifteen.
The play is heavy-handed. But the basic trouble with the production, however, is that the actors playing the children are too old to be playing 15-year-olds and this ruins the impact the sex talk and any sex act might have had.
Lauren Lyle as the teacher is often impressive but she doesn’t look any older than Oscar Porter-Brentford who is desperately trying to act like a 15-year-old.
Luke Pierre stands out from the rest in the classroom.