Barn Theatre, Cirencester – until 15 April 2018
We can’t imagine the devastation when a child goes missing. Their shocked parents are numb with grief and guilt, they cling to strangers who offer hope and their lives are put on hold. Can anything ever be the same again?
Cirencester’s £4.5 million Barn Theatre, a new, state-of-the-art, performance space, has hit the ground running with its first play, One Minute, which not only showcases the superb capabilities of a 21st century, fully-funded theatre, but also the talent behind it.
This revival of Simon Stephens’ heart-wrenching 2003 play grips its audience before a word is spoken with a ghostly shape of a little girl set centre stage. She’s about the closest we ever get to meeting 11-year-old Daisy Shults, who vanishes one day, and her blank outline tells us all and nothing about her.
One Minute is less a crime thriller and more a psychological study about how one incident can draw complete strangers together in a cold and hostile city where its people and streets offer little compassion or answers. The relationships – between distraught mother, Anne, the two police officers investigating the case, a witness and a barmaid – change over a year as the fallout from the incident affects each of their lives in different ways.
Iwan Lewis, the Barn’s artistic director, is confidently at the helm for this innovative, bold drama, deftly employing PJ McEvoy’s superb video projections and Christopher Cleal’s impressive sound and lighting, to create an intimate tragedy amid a city bustling with life.
But this production isn’t all fancy special effects. Lewis has created a pacey, thrilling drama reminiscent of the TV success, Broadchurch.
We follow the dogged, single-minded dedication of dour Scots cop DI Gary Burroughs – not David Tennant but countryman, and equally as intense, Garry Summers – as he methodically works the case.
His sidekick, a transfer from the north, DC Robert Evans (Jack Bence), is struggling to cope with the move, the demands of his nagging, complaining girlfriend, and his guvnor’s superficially cold, clinical approach to the job.
Away from the investigation both men let off steam in different ways – the married Burroughs flirting with a young student barmaid and the volatile Evans hitting the bottle.
One Minute reveals nothing of the details – not even whether Daisy wandered off or was snatched – but everything about the people caught up in the harrowing nightmare of a lost child.
Unstable, neurotic Marie Louise Burdett (a terrific Sophie May Wake) says she saw the young girl in the street – but did she? Our concerns grow the more we learn about her.
Every sentence she utters, every thought playing across her frightened face, is a time bomb. You never know what she’s going to do next – and neither does she.
And barmaid, Catherine (Sarah Hanley), who is befriended and, ultimately perplexed, by her, finds herself in the middle of it all through her uneasy relationship with Burroughs.
Rebecca Crankshaw delivers a spellbinding turn as the mother, university lecturer Dr Anne Shults, who outwardly tries to contain her emotions with British resolve (organise outings, spring clean the house, go back to work – anything so as not to think the unthinkable) and clings to the officers as though they’re surrogate sons.
Summers and Bence make a credible double-act. The former delivering an outwardly calm, analytical and determined cop, who uses his years of experience to follow every lead and question every statement, while the latter is given free rein to create a hot-headed, gauche and impatient young officer.
Simon Stephens’ uses the sights, streets and sounds of London as a sixth character and main suspect.
We accompany Marie Louise or Burroughs through the West End into Soho or along the South Bank where we see thousands of people getting on with their insular lives, not interacting, not interested or wanting to be involved in this terrible tragedy.
If anyone is to blame for Daisy’s disappearance then it is the collective indifference of modern society.
It is shocking to read in the programme notes that 180,000 people go missing each year in the UK – one every 90 seconds. Worse one in every 200 children disappear. They are appalling statistics and something we should all feel ashamed of.
This riveting, emotionally-charged, gritty production, only its second after opening with Secret Garden The Musical, is a real triumph for this little powerhouse in the Cotswolds.
One Minute runs at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until June 16.