Four Minutes Twelve Seconds
Trafalgar Studio 2
12 November 2015
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is the first full-length play by James Fritz and it has already been well received having been nominated for an Olivier Award in 2014. After a successful season at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs it is now playing at Trafalgar Studio 2. This venue is an intimate space and well suited to the play. The audience is close enough to the action to see the fear in the eyes of the actors and are thus drawn into the full gamut of emotions in the play.
This is a play about contemporary issues and it begins with parents discussing an incident of school bullying of their 15 year old son, Jack. It is treated in an entertaining light hearted manner which shows lovely comedic timing, but the play quickly develops to the more serious circumstances beneath. It not only sounds a warning bell to parents and young people on the dangers of electronic communication but also exposes the misconceptions that can be caused by lack of open and honest communications in general.
It is interesting that the main protagonist of the original act, the son Jack, is never seen and yet the twists and turns of the play put the audience very out of sympathy with his character. His physical absence on stage focuses attention on the effects of his actions on those nearest to him.
Anna Ledwich has directed this production with a beautiful light touch. The progression of each character and their relationships with each other is clearly defined within the vignette scene structure. It’s almost like watching a peeling of an onion, layer by layer until you reach its centre. The pace and energy of the performance is entirely appropriate to the style and subject matter.
This apparently straight forward story becomes more convoluted with every scene which the sound design of Sarah Weltman subtly punctuates. Each scene is linked by an electronic zap that grows from an initial short and simple burst until towards the end of the play it mirrors the complexity of the story with more lengthy, threatening variations. The simplicity in the story-telling is picked up in the visual affects by designer Janet Bird. A patterned floor covering that is reminiscent of old television test patterns is copied into the overhead lighting panel; a few chairs and a table and this simple aesthetic serves the play well.
The stand out performance of the night was given by Kate Maravan who plays Di, Jack’s mother. Every word of her delivery is believable. There were few moments that Maravan was not on stage and she kept the ball of energy in the air throughout.
Jonathan McGuinness as David, the husband and father of the piece was also excellent, his character being a foil to the excitability of his wife and without giving away the plot, David is full of surprises.
The character of the son is well established in the first section of the play by the mother and father. Then best friend Nick, appears and another layer of the onion is peeled away. Anyebe Godwin paints Nick with fine brush strokes, giving the audience a character to love.
The fourth voice in this puzzle of truth is supplied by Ria Zmitrowicz who plays the girlfriend, Cara. The events have damaged Cara more deeply than would first appear and she shows an understanding of the consequences of the harm inflicted on her beyond her 15 years. Zmitrowicz impressed earlier this year in The Crucible in Manchester and she is just as convincing in her current role.
By the end of the play there is a horrifying awareness that a variation of this story is currently being enacted for real somewhere in the near vicinity: in immediate families, next door, down the road, but certainly not further away than the next suburb. This is a situation, indeed a problem that concerns everyone and there is no doubt that it should be put in front of the eyes and ears of the young people who need to hear.