Review: Four minutes twelve seconds, Hampstead Downstairs

“Big Ian has named his son Ian too?”

Fresh from the news that a Hampstead Downstairs show will make its West End bow in the New Year (the excellent Di and Viv and Rose) after being the first to make the in-house transfer to the main theatre, the Autumn season in this officially critic-free space (I paid for my ticket, £5 early bird deal ftw) opens with James Fritz’s Four minutes twelve seconds. His first full-length play delves into the murky world of revenge porn, where an explosion in smartphone usage plus the abdication of responsibility enabled by the freedom of the internet has resulted in one of the more pernicious innovations of modern times.

At 17 years old and about to sit the exams that will hopefully send him off to a good university, Jack seems to have it made but when he comes home from school one day with his shirt covered in blood, all that is set to change. Initially trying to pass it off as a nosebleed, then a set-to with some kids from the rough school over the way, we soon find out who is responsible and why they’ve done this – a video of Jack and his girlfriend Cara getting jiggy with it has appeared online, only she’s not his girlfriend any more and so it looks like Jack has been trying to get even with her.

Of course, it is nowhere near this simple and Fritz plays into the uncertainty of the mood by never letting us meet Jack, instead we see everything through the eyes of his parents Di and David as they battle through general disbelief, parental protectiveness and liberal do-goodism. The play’s most interesting section comes in this split between doing the right thing for their son and doing the right thing per se, the divide in where they see their responsibilities lying being endlessly thought-provoking and the lengths that each parent will go to to achieve their aim dramatically most satisfying indeed.

Kate Maravan and Jonathan McGuinness pull off these roles excellently in the dizzying pixel-heavy design of Janet Bird’s traverse stage, each bringing a real sense of conviction to their chosen paths (even in the midst of some rather contrived devices from Fritz) even as it makes their own relationship suffer in the process. Ria Zmitrowicz is pleasingly complex as Cara, constantly wrong-footing us as class and gender skew the way we see things. Overall there’s perhaps too many short scenes for the show to really flow, director Anna Ledwich using blackouts to transition between them though the sharp definition needed has yet to emerge – that said, it’s early days yet for this run of a fascinatingly modern set of dilemmas.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 1st November

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