The atmosphere is one of buzzing anticipation as the audience fills this small, relatively new space in a quiet corner of Hoxton. Simon Stephens has been enjoying incredible acclaim recently and this is the opening night of a revival of his “One Minute” first performed in Sheffied in 2003. The initiative behind the venture is “Shining Man”, comprising director Robert Wolstenholme and producer Ben Crystal (who also stars), set up with the aim of staging the first major revivals of lesser known modern classics. This challenging debut does not disappoint.
The play is a five-hander and the action, set over eleven months in 2001, is built around the sudden disappearance of 11-year-old Daisy Schults from the heart of London. The police search is on to find her and as we are introduced to them one by one, we realise the play’s five protagonists are unknowingly, yet inextricably linked by this desperate race against time.
Stephens’ characters are gritty and real, sharing a sense of displacement. Where Daisy is literally lost, these people are struggling to make sense of their own lives. Each actor gives a heartfelt and believable performance, especially when given the opportunity to shine and explore with a short monologue. The speeches focus on different urban experiences, bringing particular corners of London to vivid life, relaying all the frustrations, dilemmas and emotions specific to particular slices of time. The direction is impeccable and the city almost takes on its own character as the missing child’s mother relates the crippling effects of grief as she makes her way home from work on a dark evening. The detectives in charge of the investigation struggle to deal with the frustration of a fruitless search, the stress and strain of the task impacting on their relationships as they constantly question their self-worth and realise how lonely they are. Alice O’Connell’s Marie Louise is a particular highlight. Witness to the disappearance but no longer sure what she saw, she is endearingly neurotic. With her quirky, displaced articulations and desire to return to Bloomsbury, she is reminiscent of a young Virginia Woolf.
We are constantly drawn in, forced to relate and empathise, and it is particularly through the unusual, repetitive use of monologue we really awaken to the significance of the play’s title; one minute Daisy was there, the next she was gone and the minutes tick away mercilessly towards her fate. A stunning series of intricate, one-minute snapshots into five very different London lives support the central theme and several uncomfortable, yet effective silences remind us not only of the loss of the child but of the awkward silences that so often pervade real life.
This play is not only the story of a child who has gone missing, but an intelligent study of human beings touched by a tragedy which forces them to confront themselves. Christopher Hone’s simple, effective set and Rez Safinia’s haunting, evocative score complete what is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking production.