Teenage Kicks and Sexual Consent in the Digital Age

LAURIE CHEN reviews ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ at Trafalgar Studios.

British playwright James Fritz’s Olivier-nominated debut brilliantly navigates the murky moral maze of teenage sexuality and consent in the age of sexting. Following last year’s sold-out run at Hampstead Theatre, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds has returned to the West End for a second time.

The play follows two parents, Di (Kate Maravan) and David (Jonathan McGuinnes), who deal with the devastating fallout from what initially seems like a simple teenage fight involving their son Jack. When an illicit video emerges online of Jack and his ex-girlfriend Cara, the parents’ relationship – as well as their beloved son’s reputation – is slowly torn apart by a web of secrets and lies which is gradually unravelled in the course of the play.

Anna Ledwich’s taut production and minimalistic staging ensures that the play’s tension keeps mounting with each fresh revelation. The screw doesn’t stop turning. The frantic pace of the snapshot-like scenes hurtle almost uncontrollably towards the play’s devastating, if slightly surreal, climax.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton via The Guardian

A claustrophobic suburban setting is evoked with an uncanny familiarity in the fiery exchanges between Di (Kate Maravan), who is helplessly consumed by paranoia, and David (Jonathan McGuinness), who will go to any lengths to protect his son – including blind denial. We can feel the electric tension between them. It constantly threatens to overspill, irrevocably poisoning their previous domestic intimacy.

Though their son Jack is the invisible centre of gravity around which the play revolves, he does not appear once on stage. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast desperately grasp at some kind of terrible meaning behind his actions, a meaning which ultimately never emerges. Distraught and in search of the morally right thing to do, Di confronts both Jack’s best friend Nick (Anyebe Godwin) and Cara (Ria Zmitrowicz), leading her to propose a shocking Faustian bargain which fundamentally calls into question her parental duty of protecting her son.

All this might make watching the play a rather stifling experience were it not for the deft touches of sardonic wit which Fritz peppers the parents’ dialogue, casting occasional shafts of light on the play’s dark subject matter. Kate Maravan is absolutely compelling to watch as the emotionally tempestuous Di, while fresh face Ria Zmitrowicz shines as a defiant, but ultimately vulnerable, Cara. Be sure not to miss this triumph of new British writing.

‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ is showing at Trafalgar Studios until 5 December. To book tickets visit http://goo.gl/2cyYzy.