James Fritz's Olivier Award-nominated play about selfies and sexting gets an Australian premiere at the Old Fitz
Di: “I used to be able to tell when you were lying.”
The horror at the heart of 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is the idea that you might think you know those closest to you – your partner, your child – but be dead wrong. And British playwright James Fritz throws his characters into the kind of extreme situation that would expose its participants’ true colours: parents learning that their child may have done something not only illegal but morally repugnant.
The incident in question has a ripped-from-the-headlines ring to it: a sex tape, gone viral, that shows teens Jack and Cara having what looks like (and Cara alleges is in fact) non-consensual sex. Since they’d broken up before it made the rounds at Jack’s school, it looks like a case of ‘revenge porn’.
While Jack is never on stage and has no dialogue, his parents Di and David debate the situation, weighing what they know about the incident and what they know (or think they know) about Jack, against his welfare and his promising future. What should they do? Anyone who followed the Stanford rapist case will notice similarities between these discussions and the framing of the incident by Brock Turner’s father.
Fritz keeps the audience on a string as it emerges, over 85 minutes, that David knows a lot more than Di does, or than Di thinks he does, about what happened and why. More importantly, he keeps the audience on an ever-shifting moral territory, where certainties about the “right” or “best” form of justice are hard to come by.
Although Cara’s perspective is given direct voice briefly, it’s Di and David who take centre stage, and the whole experience feels like a trip into the dark heart of the parent-child relationship. What is your moral obligation as a parent when your child has committed a crime? And how far will you go to honour or abrogate it?
This production by New York-formed Australian indie company Outhouse Theatre (who put on Annie Baker’s The Aliens at the Fitz in 2015) is taut in pace and minimal in design, and features particularly strong performances from Jeremy Waters and Danielle King as the parents. Kate Cheel, playing Cara, felt more authentic as the tough-talking working-class Cara as the opening night show progressed.
The set design is minimalist but clever, even though it feels slightly on the nose to have a backdrop of reflective black walls by which we can “examine ourselves” as audience members. And though the performances occasionally veer into melodramatic, a credible and compelling play emerges. It might be territory covered often on big and small screens, but the power of performing this story in a room full of people – where every laugh reveals something about gender- and class-biased judgments, and social attitudes towards sexual assault, rape and rape culture – is undeniable.