There is a monster in the house, and we need to know where he has come from. Jack is seventeen and, to his parents, suddenly no longer a boy, but a strange being whose abhorrent behaviour towards his ex-girlfriend shocks the family to its very foundations. James Fritz’s 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is about the parenting of boys, the evolving nature of sex, and most of all, it is about misogyny; all examined against a backdrop of today’s advanced state of information technology. There are few things that can be definitively termed “new”, but the current proliferation of pornography is unprecedented. We have a level of access that permits anyone, children and teenagers included, unrestricted consumption, and unlike anything we had known before, an unimaginable ease in its production and distribution by any individual.
Jack is from a generation where sex education is derived almost entirely from the limitless abyss of our internet. Their personalities and sexualities are not shaped by anything considered or cautious, but the exact opposite. Where we used to rely on the constrictions of tradition and religion to help us navigate the always tricky process of teaching intimacy, the unpoliceable world wide web is now imposing itself on unsupervised youngsters, who open themselves up to every undeniable putridity that we have let free in cyberspace. Where a separation had existed between real sex and fantasy, is now a hazardous conflation indistinguishable to the young ones. What used to be titillating in the darkest recesses of our mind and never to be realised, is now thought of as norm. A culture of subjecting women to humiliation and violation is no longer containable in fictional pornography. What was once taboo and rigorously concealed is now part of the sexual DNA of young heterosexual men. If rape pornography is the only kind that can excite, what happens in real life between men and women can only be tragic.
Fritz’s play explains a problem that can appear in any aspirational middle-class home. Through nuanced and revelatory descriptions of how parents think and act in this modern world, we are able to make sense of the objectionable ways in which young adults behave. Each of Fritz’s characters, whether or not they appear on stage, are manifested with stunning detail and the psychological accuracy of his work prohibits us from any possible denial of the sad state of affairs we are currently living through. The transformations we observe in Di and David, as they come to terms with their son’s actions, is absolute drama, powerful and compelling. The plot in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is scintillating at every turn. Provocatively entertaining but also relentless in its need to challenge and inform. It is a play of the now, and essential for all.
This production, helmed by director Craig Baldwin, is as engrossing as any work of theatre one could wish for. All its moments are replete with emotion and energy, keeping us deeply involved in both its sentimental and intellectual dimensions. Danielle King’s outstanding performance as Di insists that we invest completely in her conundrums. The actor’s incisive humour wins us over from her first line of dialogue, and sustains our empathy with unmitigated authenticity even when her struggles with morality become tenuous. Also wonderful is Jeremy Waters in the role of David, whose portrayals of both good and evil, resonate with such immense honesty and truth. Our humanity refuses to let us detach from his reality, even when the going gets very tough. Design aspects of the show are also remarkable. Baldwin’s own work on sound, Hugh O’Connor’s set and Christopher Page’s lights are dynamic, sophisticated and innovative.
There is a lot to love in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds, even though its message is dark, dire, and desperate. We can easily say that parents need to do more to prevent our boys from growing up like Jack. However, it is incontrovertibly true that the internet’s pervasiveness is a threat to young minds that no one has an impervious solution for. It has always been our duty to provide our children with a shield from harm and corruption, although what we are currently facing is indomitable if our aim is to keep that danger under subjugation. Misinformation is inevitable, but it can be counteracted. Education is the perennial answer to a stronger future, and in this case, the only weapon we have against a force of sheer evil.