Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 6 February, 2004

Simon Stephens' One Minute is not about the abduction of a child, any more than Waiting For Godot is about a meeting with Godot. The disappearance and presumed kidnapping of eleven-year-old Daisy Schults, which occurs before the play's events begin, is (almost literally) a pretext for the real content.

Stephens' five-hander, commissioned by director Gordon Anderson for the company ATC and developed in workshops, has two distinct thematic components. The first is loss and consolation. Daisy's academic mother, the two principal investigating police officers and two women with no direct connection to the abduction, are all seen to possess insecurities, griefs, call them what you will: past or present, and individual, interpersonal or professional. Their lives are each defined by significant absences or gaps, which both they and those they meet constantly address or evade with a variety of strategies, from sympathetic conversation to near-alcoholism.

The other main ingredient is simply London. It can stand for any large city, of course, but the universality works through a paradoxical specificity. Time and again particular topographies are alluded to in detail, right down to an almost step-by-step account of a walk between Kentish Town West and Kentish Town rail stations. The city and its multifarious parts come to inform the gaps within and between the characters' lives, in a collective portrait of nothing so simple as urban loneliness.

After its warmly received première in Sheffield last year, the production now arrives at the Bush in London as the central plank of a brief tour. It fits well into Anderson's interest in contemporary European drama. Scenes are at once sympathetic and dispassionate, and simply stop after a little while; dialogue is often deliberately banal; the year or so after Daisy's disappearance, compressed into 80 uninterrupted minutes, has no narrative arc or drive; rather, it offers up a series of snapshots that can be assembled into a partial Hockney-like photo-mosaic. It's a scrupulously low-key approach, but far removed from the cop-out of "it means what you make of it". Here, the absences and misconnections are the meaning, which we inhabit in our own ways as the characters do in theirs.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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