Nina Raine, writer of well received Tiger Country and Olivier-nominated Tribes, is back with a fiercely witty new play that brings the politics of the courtroom into everyday life. Consent follows the lives of two barristers involved in a rape case and their families. Ed (Ben Chaplin) and Tim (Pip Carter), present two opposing sides to the story – each asserting their version of events as correct. As the case is resolved the argument seeps into real life, and what follows is witty and erudite meditation on power, love, justice and the occasionally unfair nature of the law.

Directed by Roger Michell, Raine presents her ideas regarding the judicial system and rape cases, mostly using working-class Gayle (Heather Craney) as a tool to do so. In a somewhat far-fetched scene in which Gayle gate-crashes the group’s Christmas party, furious and sobbing, she demands answers for the unfair way in which she was treated. The group had been tittering about, guzzling wine and arguing over hypothetic situations, when Gayle comes in, carrying with her the very real agony she has endured, and cuts through the pretence like a knife. Overflowing with raw emotion, she is a living and breathing slap in the face. She becomes a bridge between business and personal, and a reminder that while the barristers fight it out in the dock, it is neither of them that win or lose, but the defendant or the victim.

Ben Chaplin is marvellous as Ed, who possesses the emotional range of a teaspoon, until he finds himself in the position of his clients after his life takes a downward turn. He asks for the empathy he had happily denied anyone involved in any of his cases, much to his wife Kitty’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) pleasure. As he becomes the victim, and the person under scrutiny, he begins to engage with the idea that emotion plays a significant role in any conflict.

Anna Maxwell Martin is lively and clever as Kitty, Ed’s wife, who thinly veils a harboured contempt for her adulterous husband. Adam James as Jake is oblivious to his own idiocy and arrogance, but somehow still likeable. Carter is worryingly relaxed and absorbing as Tim, while Daisy Haggard breathes life into the piece as girl-about-town Zara, and along with Jake’s Pinot-fuelled gags, she stops the play from becoming a stifling domestic drama.

Consent provokes vital discussion regarding rape cases and how they’re dealt with in court. It isn’t a criticism of the current system, but rather a recognition that something ought to change. It’s a piece of drama that causes all the so-called ‘grey areas’ to float to the surface, and encourages and cultivates debate on the matter. Raine’s intelligent writing asks us questions, and invites us all to act as the jury. Acted beautifully and staged under Hildegard Bechtler’s design of a canopy of lamps, Consent makes for heavy viewing, but littered with laughs along the way, you’re left with something complete yet still unsettling.

Consent is playing at the Dorfman, National Theatre until May 17.

Photo: Sarah Lee