Consensual examines the illicit relationship between a 15-year-old student Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton) and his 22-year-old female teacher, Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe). The play opens six years later when Freddie presses charges. He thinks she groomed him. She thinks he took advantage of her. Fifteen is that border age between law-breaking and consent, the age where lines are blurred. An age that might be old enough for some teenagers to know what they want, too young in other cases. Adults should know better but Diane was only 22. She is conflicted, not quite sure what happened that night. Was she at fault? Did he know what he wanted? Did she groom him? She can’t say for sure and give straight answers to her questioning husband. Is their first child really his or is it Freddie’s?
The first act is a continuous switch between the main storyline and a “Healthy Relationships” class full of loud teenagers. Some are already sexually active, watch porn and can discuss sex openly and at great length. Some don’t feel ready yet. Some regret that they already had their first experience because looking back they were just not as ready as they thought they were – that’s the entire dilemma; can you set an age on each and every one’s readiness to become sexually active? Do they even know if they are ready? We learn that grooming involves offering advice or understanding, giving gifts and giving the child attention. but are these things always grooming or can it just be the act of a well intentioned teacher towards a student?
Alice Vilanculo is not quite sure what constitute a normal relationship. She steals the show whenever on stage, and is just as in over her head when it comes to relationships as the young teachers supposed to teach her about them. How can young teachers help students when they are only few years older? Do they really know any better?
These reflections from the first acts keep on being interrupted by rap songs performed by the students. The transitions are abrupt, do not work for the most part and the play could have worked just as well without them.
The second act is the flashback. The set has changed and we are now in Diane’s flat six years earlier. The act is a much shorter but gives a space to Fred Hughes-Stanton and Marilyn Nnadebe to interact, just the two of them. They have a great chemistry that helps build up and display the complexity of their relationship. They have sex. Freddie leaves. Diane is in chock. The play stops and leaves the audience come to their own conclusions.
Consensual plays at the Soho Theatre until November 9th.