For James Fritz’s first full-length play, this transfer from the Hampstead Theatre packs a whole lot of punch. The runner-up in the Verity Bargate Award (only just losing out to Vicky Jones’ The One), Four Minutes Twelve Seconds tells the story of Jack, a seventeen year old from Croydon on the cusp of completing his A-Level examinations – and on the brink of being reported for sexual assault. Centring on Jack’s parents, Di and David, the play opens with a disturbing occurrence: Jack has just had his face smacked in. That he received a beating is a shock in itself to Di, whose golden boy can do no wrong. Why he was beaten up – and by his ex-girlfriend’s thuggish brother to boot – is a different matter, underpinning the crux of this 85-minute play, and in turn leading to a series of irreversible, painful decisions that challenge the very nature of familial care and responsibility.
As revelations comes in waves, the audience witnesses the unravelling of a seemingly normal, loving family, in which its members are flummoxed by the actions and reasoning of one another. Fritz’s writing is tight, and humourous in places; characters are nicely fleshed out, and there is a perverse pleasure in observing how creeping realisations wash over the characters like a tsunami – in particular, Di, Jack’s mother. Expertly played by Kata Maravan, Di must grapple with both the desire to believe in her son’s innocence, and the niggling misgivings that threaten to destroy her relationship with both Jack and David forever. Jack himself is never seen, yet the beauty of the writing (coupled with Anna Ledwich’s finessed direction) is that he is the most pervading presence of all – the elephant in the room, if you will.
The rest of the characters – including Cara, Jack’s ex-girlfriend, and Nick, Jack’s best mate, are perfectly cast, with some heart-breaking moments being delivered by Ria Zmitrowicz as Cara in particular. As trashy Croydon girls go, Cara’s demeanour and attitude place her neatly in a box generally overlooked – shunned even – by the rest of the world. Yet her rights as a woman – nay, her rights as a person, despite the prejudice she bears – are a central issue here, providing us with a saddening status quo strangely reminiscent of a 21st century Isabella: ‘did I tell this, who would believe me?’
A simple set, with low ceilings and a mosaic backdrop, lends a claustrophobic atmosphere to this intimate space. Just as there is no escape for these characters, so too are the audience asked to reflect: what would we do? Fritz provides us with few answers; rather, it is the questions that provoke in this real gem of a play.
Review by Amy Stow
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds Overview
By James Fritz
Directed by Anna Ledwich
‘He says they all do it. These kids, you know, they’ve got their phones. Film everything. Can’t say I blame them. I would at that age.’
Following a sold out run at the Hampstead Theatre and Olivier Award nomination last year, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds comes to Trafalgar Studios 2.
Seventeen year old Jack is the apple of his mother’s eye. Di and David have devoted their whole lives to giving him every opportunity they never had – and as a result, Jack is smart, outgoing, and well on his way to achieving the grades to study Law at Durham University.
But a startling incident outside the school gates threatens to ruin everything they’ve striven for, an incident that suggests a deep hatred of their son… As events begin to accelerate, Di and David start to doubt Jack’s closest friends, Jack himself, and ultimately themselves – who can they trust?
In a world where smartphones are ubiquitous, James Fritz’s deeply provocative and topical drama throws a light on the sorts of insidious opportunities new technology offers – where nothing dies online, except reputation.
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds was James Fritz’s major stage debut play. It was nominated for an Olivier Award in April 2015 and was runner up for the Verity Bargate Award the previous year.
Award-winning director Anna Ledwich’s previous work includes Donny’s Brain in 2012 and The Empty Quarter last year. Other theatre credits include Blue Remembered Hills (Chichester Festival Theatre), How Does A Snake Shed Its Skin (NT Studio/BAC/Edinburgh Festival) and Lulu (Gate Theatre/Headlong).
Four Minutes Twelve Seconds
Running time: 90 minutes
10th November to 5th December 2015