Four Minutes Twelve Seconds centres around a pair of painfully middle-class parents, Di (Jo Mousley) and David (Lee Toomes), who are desperate to draw lines between themselves and the community around them. They aren’t “those kind of people” or “proper Oldham”, they exist in a “nice”, separate bubble of snobbery and delusion.
The plot is fairly simple, Di and David’s son Jack has had an intimate video leaked online. His ex-girlfriend Cara (Alyce Liburd) thinks he did it as revenge, while he is convinced his friend ‘thick’ Nick (Noah Olaoye) is to blame. We never meet Jack, instead his corner is fought by his self-righteous parents, determined to get to the bottom of what happened. Jo Mousley is phenomenal as Di, moving effortlessly from slightly overbearing parent to a woman dealing with the complexities of consent and power in the digital age. Mousley is at her best in the scenes with Liburd and Olaoye, who both bring an understated and magnetic energy to the stage, as we see Di’s expectations challenged and prejudices confronted.
The revival also brings race to the forefront, with Cara now played by a woman of colour, adding an additional, intersectional lens to the power imbalances at play. Throughout the play different characters make it clear that the police, the school, society would always believe Jack, a middle-class white boy, over Cara. These issues are explored carefully and subtly, while keeping a sense of authenticity and reality.
Unfortunately, the honesty of themes and performances are disrupted by some of the staging decisions. Scenes are routinely interrupted by sharp blackouts and frantic repositioning on stage, only to continue again from the following line. What I suspect was intended to make the production feel modern and digital, actually leaves it feeling a little clunky and without the subtlety and plausibility that is the play’s greatest strength.
However, it is refreshingly contemporary, exploring an issue and partaking in a conversation which is continually evolving in society. Quite often plays which consider anything related to internet culture feel dated almost instantly, but Fritz has picked a story which is depressingly current. Yet as much as the narrative is grounded in a time a place, it is equally universal – and it is this dichotomy which is ultimately at the heart of its success. A mother refusing to see what her son is capable of, a girl dealing with trauma, a family’s sense of justice and retribution, these are enduring constructs.
The universality of the narrative is reflected in Anna Reid’s set. An immaculate white space, save for carefully chosen ubiquitously middle-class touch-points: a pair of Hunter wellies in the corner, a bouquet of flowers on the table. Our never-seen antagonist Jack is represented by a gap in the ceiling at the top of the stairs, which periodically glows like a laptop screen, an uncomfortable reminder that your digital footprint is ever-present. All the while our voyeurism is reflected back at us, with Reid’s mirrored frame around the stage carefully showing our complicity as an audience.
The play may be approaching six years old, but the story feels remarkably fresh and timely, not least given the backdrop of this week’s news. While Harvey Weinstein finally faces punishment for his crimes, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds serves as a careful reminder that Weinstein’s conviction is very much the exception, not the rule.
Written by: James Fritz
Directed by: Chris Lawson & Natasha Harrison
Produced by: Oldham Coliseum Theatre
Booking until: 7 March 2020
Booking link: https://www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/four-minutes-twelve-seconds/