[Review] Implied Consent – Brechtian Theatre in the Age of Twitter

By Michael Wood

On Saturday August 18th I attended The Actors’ Hub, tucked away in a sleepy street of Claisebrook adjacent to the railway depot and old distilleries, for the second night of their original production Implied Consent, directed by Amanda Crewes. It was the second in a trilogy of productions that use the form of verbatim theatre – wherein performers draw upon real interviews – to explore modern social ills and the dissonance between our values and our actions. The first entry in the trilogy explored the apparent epidemic of the ‘coward punch’, and as the name suggest this entry was focussed on the nature of consent.

The venue itself was unassuming, giving off a vibe that wasn’t too far removed from its industrial past. Small and simple, with seats straight from your primary school’s staff room, at times it felt like a secretive parallel universe hidden away where the uninitiated would never think to tread. However, this energy fostered a kind of intimacy amongst the audience which allowed one to feel at ease to watch, digest, react, and discuss the piece. There was much conversation between strangers during intermission and after the show which, in my humble opinion, spoke volumes about the success of the production.

The play itself was a somewhat elaborate acting exercise, presumably designed to give The Hub’s students the opportunity to perform multiple roles and embody a range of emotions. Framed as a game show in which the eight performers were split into teams of black and white shirts (a playful nod to the subject matter’s apparent grey area), the performers would ‘spin the wheel’ to select the next category in which to discuss consent. Their responses to these categories were taken from dozens of extensive interviews The Hub conducted with real respondents. This is the heart of what they call verbatim theatre: taking the words of real people and using them to develop realistic, natural, fully-formed characters which the actors dutifully reproduced.

The harrowing issue of implied consent has been taken on by Ashana Murphy, left, Glenn Wallis and Christopher Colley at The Actors’ Hub. Image courtesy of The Actors' Hub.

The harrowing issue of implied consent has been taken on by Ashana Murphy, left, Glenn Wallis and Christopher Colley at The Actors’ Hub. Image courtesy of The Actors' Hub.

Each of the eight performers cycled through their personal list of roles with diligence, delivering short, punchy, tweet-length soundbites. It was easy to forget how difficult a task they faced as they managed to create definition between the masks they shifted between, generating spontaneity and randomness in a performance which must have required hours upon hours of study and rehearsal. The brevity of the lines was ideal for a topic whose talking points have emerged from online discourse that is all too often presented out of context and with a snappiness that rarely does justice to the grave complexities of the issue.

This quick-draw delivery was broken up at points when actors leaned into lengthier monologues dedicated to subjects like psychological abuse, paedophilic grooming, and the relationship between chemical dependencies and promiscuity. Each of these monologues were delivered with gravitas, the actors flanked by their castmates whose bodies became the set in beautifully choreographed movements at once alienating and hypnotic.

Despite this attention to detail in creating realistic characters, the form of the production drew upon numerous elements of absurdist theatre to peel back the audience’s disbelief. Every spin of the wheel was presented with a wink and a nod as the actors didn’t even try to pretend it was spun in earnest, a gag which drew belly laughs out of everyone in attendance as the evening went on. The fourth wall was hardly acknowledged as the cast wilfully made eye contact with audience members and invited some onstage to partake. All of this was done with a reverence for the Theatre of the Epic and other absurdist forms which explicitly arose in reaction to the political turmoil of the 20th century, and perhaps in our 21st this approach has never been more fitting.

Far from a soapbox, Implied Consent was a powerful achievement in soliciting the audience’s internal participation and left one wondering whether grey areas are really all that grey to begin with – perhaps we only wish they were.

The Actors’ Hub is a theatre and acting academy located at 129 Kensington Street, East Perth. Their next production will be Romeo and Juliet.