Four Minutes Twelve Seconds

The Coliseum Theatre, Oldham; Tuesday 25th February, 2020

Seventeen-year-old Oldham lad Jack is a young man who seems destined to be going places. His parents have made big plans for him – and they’re willing to push hard against anything that stops him from getting there.

But when young Jack is violently attacked by the family of his own girlfriend, his parents realise with great shock and horror that their carefully crafted world of closeted safety is about to be suddenly and permanently thrown into utter chaos. 

Mother and father struggle to make sense of what has happened. They have only one question: why? Their search for answers doesn’t take long to yield a terrible discovery: a shocking video that has appeared on the internet.

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is a bang-up-to-date morality tale which explores the dizzying and terrifying consequences of adolescence being enacted in the unconfined landscapes of the digital age.

Throughout its two-hour running time the show exudes a deep and luxurious thriller-like ambience. The mood of hesitant mystery never subsides, if anything it grows steadily as the story slowly accelerates towards an ever-more-unpredictable ending.

Parents Di (Jo Mousley) and David (Lee Toomes) congregate and conspire around the family dining table as they set about trying to piece together a logically viable explanation for the events that have taken place.

But each clue and each fact seems to be surrounded in a sticky web of sordid deception and sometimes outright deceit. There is always uncertainty; there is always an alternative hypothesis; or a double-bluff; or an alternative suspect. The plot is complex with so many twists and turns yet it all seems to flow elegantly thanks to some excellent writing. 

The set on stage portrays a very modern, contemporary-looking household. A white dining table and chair set; minimalist, white stairs with no banister. The house has no ornaments, no pictures, there are no features anywhere. Just Di and David, agonising and fretting over exactly what their son has and has not done. 

This minimalist staging combined with excellent lighting effects greatly adds to the tension. The family home seems to lack detail – but that pleasingly couples with the story being told – which is one with frustratingly little in the way of reliable facts but one which instead serves up plenty of intriguing conjecture.

The show is effectively made up of dozens of mini scenes which are broken up with powerful lighting effects and regular musical interjections. The presented spectacle quickly shifts attention and focus, from one avenue of possibilities to another. Some mini-scenes last just seconds and involve nothing more than a pensive look of concern from mother or father, or both. 

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is a complex mystery which starts with a relatively simple premise before gradually adding ever greater detail – to the point where the audience is left with a slightly bewildering sense of confusion. But this is a very delicious kind of confusion – it is the kind that requires urgent rationalisation, but that closure never really comes. 

Character-wise, it becomes increasingly hard to feel any sympathy for Di or David towards the end of the show. They come across as being too frantic – almost pathetic – in the way that they set about firstly trying to protect their son and then themselves.

Plot-wise the end is somewhat unsatisfactory. But then it was always going to be, there was never going to be a right answer to the complex conundrum being posed.

The show infuriates with its devious meanderings; its constant jumping between scenes; the tantalising lack of detail; the portrayed arrogance of youth; the futile efforts of a mother and father losing control over their child – but all of these things make for great theatre. 

Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is a gripping psychological thriller which portrays the dangers of oversharing on the internet; and possibly even more dangerous: the lengths that people might go to in order to undo the damage. 

A fabulous mood of uncertainty permeates this show, one which ensures that it remains compelling till the very end. This is a baffling mystery full of clues and leads, truths and lies – all of it presented in such a fresh and innovative way.

http://www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/four-minutes-twelve-seconds/

Photography: Joel Chester Fildes


Summary

Performance AspectCommentsScore
Visual pleasureOutstanding lighting effects which served to elevate this show from being a conventional stage production into something much more sinister and unique.5
Auditory pleasureThe musical interjections were brilliant and served to greatly enhance the tension being generated. Felt a little stuttered in comparison to the visual effects, perhaps more of it was needed.4
Architecture & ThemeOutstanding piece of writing to create a coherent performance even though the aim of the game seems to have been to give as little information as possible. Became slightly difficult to believe at the end but somehow that didn’t seem to matter too much such was the power of what was delivered.4
Artistic deliveryExcellent performances from all those on stage, each character seemed to develop as the show went on, including the minor roles which served to add yet more intrigue to the mystery.5
Overall impactVery reminiscent of Equus by The English Touring Theatre – a show which presumably had a much bigger budget yet all the key thriller-like features still come through and lead to a thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre.5
Final Score:4.6

Scoring Scheme

0Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

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