As someone who has read and watched a lot of plays, I have always had a problem with what I have termed ‘rape plays’; plays which attempt to use such a serious and complex issue as a simple plot devise and characterize women as no more than victims. That being said, I was genuinely surprised and impressed by Suffragette Theatre Company’s production of ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’, which turned a storyline I’ve seen portrayed wrong on stage so many times into a thoughtful insight into family dynamics, casual classism and the long-term impacts of sexual assault.
The play centres around the couple Di and David, and their slow discovery that their son Jack, who is never presented on stage, has raped his girlfriend after a sex tape of them is uploaded to the internet. The location of Cafedrale is perfect for this show, as it creates the cozy, intimate atmosphere of the family living room, bringing the domestic focus of the play to the forefront. As we watch David read his newspaper and Di take off her coat as she enters, we as an audience feel we are intruding on something deeply personal. And this sense of unease only grows as we realize the pink rosy lights and comfortable cushions hide deep secrets and shocking betrayals. The tension is built throughout the play beautifully, and peaks at the right times to keep the audience on edge. Costume changes are cleverly used for slick scene transitions, so nothing distracts from the pace and quality of the acting.
Turning to the acting, I was generally impressed by the commitment to naturalism from the cast, though I did feel there were moments when it meant the characters’ emotions were dampened. it must be acknowledged that Catherine Wright gives the most outstanding performance of the night. She perfectly captures the neurotic overprotective suburban mother, and her journey of coming to terms what her son has done is truly heartbreaking to watch. From her foot tapping under the table to her tiny changes in facial expressions, every subtly makes her character entirely believable. Her emotion and energy slightly overshadow Alex Comaish playing her husband David. However, he does well in portraying the seemingly dismissive and flippant father, bringing an unsettling quality to the character from the beginning. As the play goes on, he warms into the role, and the shocking reveal that it was David uploaded the video is delivered in a way that exposes his deeply despicable character and the toxic masculinity that is embodied the way he speaks about his son. There were a couple of line slips and moments where I felt cues could have been bitten quicker, but overall the dynamic between the couple is well built, with the challenging quickfire dialogue executed masterfully.
Jeremy Page is earnest and charming as Nick, portraying the only really likable character in the play. Abbie Priestly, while only on stage for a short time, portrays arguably most significant character of Cara, and I was impressed by the way she refuses to play her character as a victim. She is sarcastic, angry and yet vulnerable at the right moments, and her refusal to feel sorry for herself makes us an audience sympathize with her and admire her integrity. Her accent, while slightly questionable at moments, helps convey her background well, and brings the themes of class in the play into the forefront.
Class was very interestingly and often sub-textually explored, and David and Di can’t bring themselves to acknowledge their own prejudices, simply saying ‘she’s so… and Jack’s not.’ I felt more time could have be given to moments like this to make them really hit, and a few more pauses wouldn’t have gone amiss, but the fast pacing keeps the audience engaged all the way through. The endearing moments of humour, such as David not knowing how to use facebook, are brought out nicely by directorial choices from Francesca-Haydon White and Assistant director Mary Bradshaw, providing a nice change of tone from the serious one pervading the play.
Suffragette Theatre Company’s ‘Four Minutes Twelve Seconds’ discusses important themes with a subtly and intelligence that is truly enjoyable to see. A perfect play to do in Durham, and brilliantly executed; I would highly recommend catching their final performance.
Photography by rahulandhislens