National Youth Theatre at Ambassadors Theatre, London (****)
What an amazing organisation the National Youth Theatre and its Rep Company have become. These high profile West End seasons are only the tip of an expanding iceberg covering the country with auditions, educational and technical workshops, masterclasses and much more. With rising costs for drama training, the NYT has become an indispensable training resource, inclusive, accessible
This season’s National Youth Theatre Rep Season includes are a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights, The Merchant of Venice and Evan Placey’s Consensual, a new play developed in conjunction with Sky Arts for Generation Sext, a drama-doc screened in the summer looking at sex education and the new social media phenomenon of `sexting’.
NYT productions are usually distinctive for their energy and remarkable talent. Consensual is no exception. A humdinger of a piece, it explores the vexed question of intimate relationships between pupil and teacher, an area fraught with misunderstanding and judgemental attitudes where teachers who in theory should know better can end up victims as much as perpetrators.
Placey, a former sexual health outreach worker, but now full-time playwright (he recently won a Writers’ Guild Best Play for Young Audiences award) captures this dilemma with terrific zest in a story which pitches a hard-working teacher at the centre of an allegation of `grooming’ by a former pupil.
By far the funniest scene in the play in Pia Furtado’s zippy production is a sex education class where the hormonally driven teenagers, played to the hilt by the NYT ensemble, would test the patience of a saint. But cheeky outrage apart, the meat of Placey’s story lies with Diane, a teacher whose mixed emotions over a 15 year old pupil, Freddie, lands her seven years later in belated hot water.
Placey adds a not totally convincing subplot of Freddie’s domestic problems with a bullying brother and alcoholic father. But it is Lauren Lyle’s wonderfully mature, nuanced performance as Diane and the blurred lines of where pastoral care tips over into sexual attraction revealed by Placey that make Consensual and Lyle particularly so impressive. Hard to imagine it being bettered, I hope it gets another production life.
Stars are born at the NYT. Watch out for some of these in future years.
Review first published in Reviewsgate Oct 2015