How much do we really know about those closest to us? Can we ever truly know what our closest friends and family are capable of? These are the questions that James Fritz’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds forces us to ponder, whether we like it or not. First produced at Hampstead Theatre in 2014 and now transferred to Trafalgar Studios, it is a play that grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and forces them to consider their preconceptions and prejudices. It is a play that twists the stomach into ever-tighter knots as the tension mounts higher and higher. And it is a play that cements James Fritz’s growing reputation as a superbly intense writer. In a word, it is riveting.
Jonathan McGuiness and Kate Maravan star as David and Di, a lower middle-class couple from Croydon whose hopes and dreams rest on the success of their son Jack, a 17 year-old who, we are repeatedly told, is a “good kid”. A good kid that is, who happens to take a starring role in a graphic online video with his ex-girlfriend Cara. A good kid being accused of rape by said ex-girlfriend. A good kid now being hunted down by Cara’s family – “you know what they’re like” – in some kind of sleazy Godfather-Inbetweeners mash-up. We never meet Jack – he remains a constant presence at the edge of Janet Bird’s minimalist set – but by the play’s conclusion, you can be pretty sure he is a five-star shit.
Both McGuinness and Maravan excel. Their performances are rooted in a realism that lends Fritz’s script the powerful relatability it demands: their history as a couple is tangible, their relationship wholly believable. Maravan is particularly impressive as a conventional mum in an unconventional situation. Ria Zmitrowicz is equally laudable as the strident, unforgiving Cara – “I got nuffin to say to you”, she spits at Maravan, arms crossed, hair scraped back, ponytail bobbing with every aggressive bob of her head – and Anyebe Godwin does well as “Thick” Nick, Jack’s stupid, but loveable, best mate.
Fritz’s ability to play with the audience is on full display. As more and more is revealed about Jack and his relationship with Cara, and David and Di gradually come face to face with the fact that their son is not who they thought he was, Fritz turns the audience’s assumptions on their head over and over again. Fritz’s point that beneath our pretensions to openness and equality, we are still more likely to believe a smartly-dressed middle-class white kid than a foul-mouthed, tracksuit-wearing chav is crushingly well realised.
And that’s not all. In just an hour and a half, Fritz also manages to pack in thought-provoking comment on parenthood, social media, friendship, love, and more. And on top of this, his writing never feels contrived or artificial. It is testament to his skill that he is able to cram so much in, to stitch together so many themes but never let the audience see the seams. If there is one criticism to be made, it is that Fritz’s series of revelations starts to become somewhat formulaic and a pattern begins to develop. One does begin to feel his hand cranking up the tension towards the end.
Fritz’s Ross & Rachel, an absorbing hour-long monologue on what happens after a classic love story’s happy-ever-after, was unquestionably a highlight of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, his first play, is clearly cut from the same cloth. Tightly constructed, tense, and packed full of engaging subtext, it is proof that his burgeoning reputation is not unwarranted.