Consent - London

Nina Raine's critically acclaimed modern classic returns to the West End.

West End Consent Star Stephen Campbell Moore on His Penchant for New Work and Overcoming a Health Crisis

West End Consent Star Stephen Campbell Moore on His Penchant for New Work and Overcoming a Health Crisis
Stephen Campbell Moore in "Consent"
(Photo: Johan Persson)

Fondly remembered from his London and Broadway run in Alan Bennett’s Tony-winning The History Boys, Stephen Campbell Moore has since returned to the West End in Clybourne Park and Chimerica, among other major plays. The ever-engaging actor is now giving a scorching star turn as an English barrister, or legal eagle, accused of rape in the Nina Raine play Consent, now at the Harold Pinter Theatre after its National Theatre premiere last year. Campbell Moore took time recently to talk transfers, the appeal of new plays and his gratifying return to full health.

How does it feel to have come into a play that was first seen with a (mostly) different cast last year at the National Theatre’s small Dorfman auditorium?
This one has been a real grower on me; it took a few reads for me to think, "I’m really beginning to see what this." At first you just see the surface and think, “These are unappealing people,” but then Nina [Raine, the playwright] turns things ever so slightly, so that after the third or fourth read, you think, "I could be an advocate for this guy [Ed, the barrister whose personal life falls away as the play continues]." I became more and more persuaded by it.

Does it feel as if you are remaking the play afresh for the West End?
It’s been quite an interesting process taking this to a completely different theater; there’s always that danger of losing the subtlety of a play when you take it from a smaller space—especially the Dorfman [at the National], which is ideal for such a forensic look at human behavior. But the point is to go with the clarity of the writing so that it lands in a big theater and then work out the details in whatever way you can.

And let your collaborators be your guide?
Absolutely. We’ve got Nina in the room and Roger [Michell, the director], so it’s just unfolded in a different way; the pack of cards seem to have fallen slightly differently, though always within the boundaries of the writing.

How do you feel about Ed, who is charged with the very accusation—namely, rape—that he has previously known only as a defense barrister?
The thing about Ed is that he has no truck with the kind of sentimentality that finds some people harping on about “empathy”. So, what he then learns first of all is that he has to have a sense of empathy with other people and, secondly, that he should have the capacity to apologize properly for his previous behavior because he’s had an affair: the past is the past and let’s move on.

What happens to him then?
It’s as if Ed has skewered his own spirit. He’s able to work the system, as barristers do, to evoke emotions in other people even as he comes to realize the importance of the word “sorry”—which is not the same as feeling sorry for himself.

Did you ever entertain a career in the law?
No, not at all, though I suppose I do read quite a lot. And for actors, as you know, it’s very interesting to be able to anatomize what is happening in language: as you might parse something grammatically, so you need to be able to do that rhetorically, as well.

How does it feel for so much of your career to be associated with new plays, rather than one or another reconsiderations of a classic?
If I’m totally honest, I know there are great plays out there but they often don’t have anything in them that would make me want to engage with them. I love to go see Hamlet or stuff by Ibsen and Chekhov, but at the same time I don’t crave to be in them quite a lot of the time; I like plays that are written for an audience coming in that hasn’t ever seen another version of it.

Does that feel like a brave career choice?
I remember doing Bruce Norris’ play [Clybourne Park] years ago, and that was actually a time where I thought to myself that this is the kind of thing I need to keep doing. It sometimes feels with classical plays that people do them because they think they should be done, and of the word “should” comes into it, then that feels to me as if it’s not what I ought to be doing.

Is it especially gratifying to be back on stage now that you have returned to full health? [Campbell Moore has successfully fielded two brain tumors within a decade.]
Well, you know, it’s just life, isn’t it? These things happen. But it does make it very exciting to be back in the West End performing something that is seen to be a bit of a mammoth role.

Does this run in some sense feel restorative?
It suggests to me that you can always come back and get your energy back and your strength back and just get on with it. [The illness] was a bit of a scare but everybody has it in their lives at some point, and it’s interesting when it happens to you when you’re so young.

Is America on the horizon for you at all going forward?
I supposed over the past few years, what with having had a child and also the health issues, I haven’t really felt like I wanted or needed to spend any time in the States. But if the right thing came up, I would be very happy to go there. And now that you mention taking Consent to New York, what a very good idea!