The title may not give much away, but Four Minutes Twelve Seconds covers some difficult and poignant themes. The rise in popularity of social media and smart phones has coincided with a rise in revenge porn and depictions of rape. As teenagers grow up at an ever increasing pace, how can parents protect them?
That's the conundrum at the heart of this play from author James Fritz, that's recently transferred from the Hampstead Theatre. With its minimalist staging and fidgety electronic soundtrack, this is an intense and morally ambiguous one act play. When their son is beaten up by his ex-girlfriend's brother and father after a video bordering on rape appears online, Di and David are pushed to moral breaking point. Slowly the narrative unfurls as the layers are teased and peeled back through short scenes that often end before key moments of dialogue, keeping us guessing as we choose sides between a father who believes he is protecting his son and a mother torn between her family and her own moral code.
There's a clever void in the play: the absence of the son himself. It ensures we're never quite sure who or what to believe. Is the son a rapist? What exactly constitutes rape? What should his punishment be, and who should deal it? By not giving him a voice it means we never quite hear the truth. The power, therefore, is in the hands of Cara, the ex-girlfriend - only she (and we) can truly judge.
Except we do eventually hear the truth. Half way through we discover who really uploaded the video online. On a narrative level it's a disappointing twist that doesn't quite feel believable and loses a sense of mystery. Thematically, however, it throws things wide open, the themes of pornography and parenting expanded into a wider context of sexism. It's this that makes the show such a vital piece of theatre.
So too does the performance of Kate Maravan as Di. In a superb cast, her performance stands out as the backbone of the narrative. She may begin as a mouthy and overly-protective mother, but we slowly witness her fall apart as she questions the actions of her son and her own morality. We may not agree with her attempts at a resolution, but could we really do any better in her place?
Watch: Four Minutes Twelve Seconds runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 5th December.
Photo: Ikin Yum