By Anna De Vivo
Suffragette Theatre Company’s newest production of ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ by James Fritz reflects the darker depths of the digital world. In a tense unravelling of secrets, the play tracks the dissolution of Di and David’s marriage due to a tragic event caused by their absent son, James. Brutally realistic, the play’s strength emerges from the poignant depiction of desperation in the face of crisis. Yet our sympathies towards these characters are never static, constantly sliding as the audience’s perspectives widen.
Cafédral is a well-chosen venue, creating an intimate domestic setting that well-suits the subject of the play. With its comfortable soft furnishings as well as the effective kitchen-lounge set, the space of the venue is economically used. The sofa is effectively foregrounded in the centre stage and the original coffee shop counter is innovatively transformed into a kitchenette, with most of the action being anchored by these domestic symbols. This visual is striking when Catherine Wright’s character sobs silently on the sofa throughout the play, reflecting her gradual isolation.
Whilst the use of the same set has the tendency to be monotonous and visually boring, this is not the case for ‘Four Minutes and Twelve Seconds’ and actually works to its advantage. Reflecting the stagnation that comes with the characters’ lack of options, the scenes alternate from the private interiority of Di and David’s family home to the public exchanges occurring in the pub with Nick and Cara (Jeremy Page and Abbie Priestley). The blue and red lights gloss over the furniture casting coloured shadows much like 3D anaglyph glasses. This jars with the seemingly warm confines of the family home, overlaying it with a sense of dread that emerges from the main tension of the play.
From the outset of the play Catherine Wright inhabits her role as the overbearing mother with authority. In a persistent attempt to prove her son’s innocence, Wright plays Di with a desperation that pervades all of her actions. Wright effectively modulates her tone, with her character’s initial accusation against Nick full of dry and sardonic wit: ‘there you are lying on the couch like a big slug.’ Yet, it was Di’s reaction towards one of her later arguments with David that fully displays how this bubbling tension explodes; breathless, panicky, weepy, and laden with rhetorical questions, Di is evidently a character on the brink of breakdown, one which Wright portrays with emotional sophistication. The tension of her situation is elucidated through her physicality, with her nervous mannerisms such as nail-biting, as well as a subtle command over her facial expressions demonstrating the extent of her maternal anxiety.
Alex Comaish delivers an equally compelling performance as Jack’s father, David. Whilst initially less emotionally wrought, David juxtaposes Di’s anxiety by approaching Jack’s situation with flippant denial. This is seen through his relaxed stage presence and how he underplays Di’s concerns by shifting the topic on her sexuality. Yet, what is striking about David’s character is the extent of what he says through the unsaid as he cuttingly remarks to Di, ‘If you go through with this, that’s the end of it.’ The audience learn what ‘this’ is in the following scene, summing up one of the most elusive parts of the play as information is peppered in subtly and slowly. Yet, this is also a pitfall as some parts of the play such as the Brighton sub-plot feel irreconcilably fractured, perhaps leaving the audience too far in the lurch.
When the ending flashes forwards a year, we encounter a detached and dejected Di, and whilst everything seems to be the same, everything is simultaneously different. A play full of friction and fissure, ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ anxiously yet inconclusively explores difficult topics through the shifting moral perspectives of its characters.
Suffragette’s ‘Four Minutes, Twelve Seconds’ is on 22-24th November, 7:30pm at Cafedral.