One Minute

Simon Stephens
ATC Theatre Company at the Traverse, Edinburgh

Five characters form various constellations over the course of over twenty scenes (approx. 90 minutes), each of which deals with steps in the process of grieving. The subject of their grief is a girl named Daisy, though the audience doesn't learn that right off, and in the end it seems like understanding the grieving process might be a secondary aim of the play

In his writer's notes, Stephens makes it clear that in writing One Minute he and director Gordon Anderson were exploring "a new form of telling the stories [they] developed." But the Anglo-American theatrical narrative form which Stephens and Anderson try to escape with One Minute is a form ingrained upon audiences, and it seems natural to seek the play's plot within the story of Daisy's disappearance. Approaching One Minute this way might leave audiences unsatisfied, as it doesn't leave much to think about once the play has come to an end.

But looking for stories that are told in "new" ways leads one to consider what seem, at first, to be peripheral narratives about each of the five characters. At this point, it begins to appear as if the only character whose story is actually about grieving is Dr. Anne Shults (Teresa Banham), the missing child's mother. While the other characters' stories intersect, to varying extents, with Anne's story, they do not revolve, as Anne's does, around Daisy's kidnapping.

The fact that the audience gains full portraits of the lives of each of the other characters implies that the original goal of the production has been, to a certain point, successful.

Whatever holes are left by the script (and while it's difficult to say it with certainty, I have the feeling there aren't many) are filled in by the cast. Each member of the cast clearly understands their roles, both in the sense of their character's journey and the journey of the play itself. It's tempting to say that the Sarah Paul's performance (as Catherine) is the most convincing, but it's also possible that her character, a college student and bartender, is simply the easiest to identify with. Meanwhile, one can feel only sympathy for Banham, who spends nearly all her time on stage in tears. Mary Louise (Lucy Black's character) is a nervous, irritating, self-centered rich girl - but not once during the performance was believing this a stretch. Simon Wolfe (playing DI Gary Burroughs) and Tom Ellis (as DC Robert Evans) are not only ideal foils for one another - the former hardened and made weary by a career which he clearly takes home with him every night, and the latter a less-cocky-than-he-initially-seems young officer having trouble with his girlfriend - but also relate marvelously with the female characters.

The set, sound, and lighting design for One Minute do their job, but if Anderson was keen on looking for a new method with which to tell the characters' stories, one wishes this had extended to the setting for the production. Clearly, One Minute requires a tightly staged space, and the production elements need to be unobtrusive enough not to overshadow the performance, but neither the simple grey furniture (painted to resemble concrete), rising and fading lights, nor easy, mellow music quite push the boundaries of what audiences have come to expect from the theatre.

"One Minute" is playing at the Traverse Theatre, from 3-6 March, 2004

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Bush Theatre in London


Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody

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