Writer James Fritz is a serious name to watch: this, his debut play, bagged an Olivier nomination when it ran last year at Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs Theatre – which has a ‘no reviews’ policy – and he caused a splash at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer with his very clever, very dark ‘Friends’-referencing ‘Ross & Rachel’.
Now, ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ is getting a transfer to a more public stage, and with impeccable timing: the issues it raises about consent and victimhood have, if anything, become even more hot-button since the play premiered.
It’s a clever, multi-layered beast that takes its name from the duration of a leaked video of two schoolkids having sex: Jack and his ex-girlfriend Cara. They are, however, peripheral characters – in fact, Jack isn’t even in it. Instead, the play is about Jack’s parents and their loving, misguided, sinister, catastrophic response.
Di (Kate Maravan) is a caring mother whose initial hysteria at Jack being beaten up by Cara’s brother belies Machiavellian ideas of what’s best for her son in the long term. David (Jonathan McGuinness) is the laidback, softy dad with an unexpected coldness. Anna Ledwich’s minimal production – short scenes punctuated by abrupt blackouts – has an almost exhilarating air as we watch the situation rapidly spin out of control. Jack has been beaten up at school, by Cara’s brother, because of the leaked video, he confesses reluctantly. Di sets out to prove Jack didn’t leak it, but discovers that the bigger question is whether or not the tape depicts consensual sex.
‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ is lucid, funny and exceptionally good at lobbing a headachey new moral conundrum at you every few minutes. It’s also troubling: Ria Zmitrowicz is heartbreaking as Cara – gobby, brittle and well aware she has little chance of justice. But Jack is equally unsettling in his absence. He never gets to defend himself and doesn’t face up to his actions. You wonder how much he even knows about what’s going on; everybody else will live with what happened, but will he? And can we condemn somebody in absentia? Slippery stuff, and if it all becomes a bit overwrought in an ‘EastEnders’ Christmas special style by the end, it’s riveting stuff.