Saturday, 18 October 2014

Theatre review: Four Minutes Twelve Seconds

What with the front-of-house remodelling that's been going on at Hampstead Theatre, the current Downstairs season was announced quite late in the day, allowing for some topicality. Of course, rape culture and victim-blaming have been prominent topics for some time now, but the recent hacking that's made celebrities' private nude photos and sex tapes public makes James Fritz's first full-length play even more of-the-moment. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is the running time of a sex video made by 17-year-old Jack and his girlfriend Cara, and at the start of the play it's been leaked to all their school friends. As his father David (Jonathan McGuinness) tells it, Jack got the blame for releasing the video, and Cara dumped him for it. But David is holding back some of the details, such as why Cara's family have attacked Jack in the street: A more serious accusation's been made against him, and the tape may in fact prove whether it's true or not.

We never actually meet Jack, who's been sent to an aunt's for his own safety, instead getting his story as his mother does: Di (Kate Maravan) is determined to find out who really posted the video, but as she delves into this she has to face which of the accusations against her son may be true.

Janet Bird's traverse set covered in multicoloured pixels is an exposing space appropriate to the story being told on it, as both parents try to deny the obvious explanation and find an alternative that leaves their son the paragon they thought he was. Di's attempts to get answers from Jack's best friend Nick (Alexander Arnold) and Cara herself (Ria Zmitrowicz) start out aggressive but she can't fault their answers and realises the best way to get to the bottom of it is to watch the sex tape herself.

Of course, the only real mystery here is who actually leaked the video (and the resolution to this is one element of the play I didn't entirely buy.) Maravan is very good at showing how strong Di's powers of denial are, even as she starts to accept the facts and want to do something about them, her maternal instinct keeps pushing her back into finding excuses.

There's a constant refrain of how Jack's got a bright future ahead of him that one mistake shouldn't be allowed to spoil; it allows Fritz's play to bring the wider social context in without labouring the point. It's established early on that Cara's family have had past clashes with the police so will be unlikely to report the crime; this leaves the responsibility, and the decision over whether to involve the authorities, with Di and David, making them a microcosm of the wider issue Fritz is looking at. Anna Ledwich's production aims for a minimalist aesthetic that doesn't feel 100% developed, but it confidently navigates the very dark - and sometimes unexpected - places the play takes it to in steely fashion.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds by James Fritz is booking until the 1st of November at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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