Review – A Minute to Midnight, Ruminate Theatre Company, Flash Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year Acting Students, Castle Hill, Northampton, 3rd April 2019

Flash FestivalThree young women share a flat, all perfectly nice and ordinary on the face of it; one of them meets a fourth girl who’s currently homeless and invites her to take the spare bedroom. That all seems innocent and friendly enough. But what Imogen discovers is that her new flatmates, Connie, Harper and Freya, all have one thing in common. They’re all members of an obscure sect, Nodus Tollens; and, basically, they’re all waiting for some world-shattering cataclysmic event. Imminently. And all non-followers of Nodus Tollens will perish, leaving just a handful of people to run the world in the future.

A Minute to MidnightImogen, understandably, is sceptical. Perhaps, like me, she would expect followers of such a cult to be all miserable old men with long beards and shepherds’ crooks living in hermits’ caves. But she allows herself to be drawn in to their web, because she’s down on her luck and she needs to be friends with her new-found companions. They’ve convinced her, against her will, into taking hallucinogenic drugs, but she takes them, because she doesn’t want to offend her flatmates. However, to her surprise, Imogen finds herself a leading light in this odd religion, delivering inspirational speeches to the membership. But this success gives rise to jealousy and misunderstanding, and eventually the future doesn’t look so bright for Imogen or her flatmates.

Tonia ToselandIf I’m being a little cagey on the subject matter, that’s partly not wishing to spoil surprises but also because the play itself is rather cagey with us. The writing doesn’t give us a great insight into the group’s activities because they are, by nature, secret and obscure; and this obscureness transmits itself into the audience leaving us (well, me at least) sometimes confused as to what was going on. An inevitable consequence of this for me was, I have to confess, that my mind did start to wander at times.

Amelia ScottNevertheless, the cast went about portraying their rather intense, dark tale, with some excellent characterisation and committed performances. Tonia Toseland gives a strong and convincing portrayal of Connie, the group’s leader, with her natural authority bordering on domestic tyranny. Amelia Scott provides a nicely underplayed sense of humour to the role of Harper, distinctly bottom of the pecking order, being virtually ordered to work as a kitchen lackey by the rest of the group, whilst still being quietly supportive of everything they do.

Mia LeonieMia Leonie has a great stage presence and plays Freya with a quirky unpredictability. At first she’s excited by the presence of Imogen, and hangs on her every word; but once she starts to climb the ladder of success, Ms Leonie convinces us with her portrayal of Freya’s thinly suppressed antagonism and envy. And Georgie Morna-Arkle is excellent as the fish-out-of-water Imogen, easily manipulated and eager to please, whose slow, wide-eyed curiosity takes her unexpectedly to the top.

Georgie Morna-ArkleA couple of things bothered me. Connie ruthlessly searches Imogen’s rucksack when she first comes to stay, looking for reasons to distrust her. Harper is shocked by this invasion of privacy; yet when Freya watches Connie rifling through her friend Imogen’s possessions she doesn’t react. That didn’t feel believable to me. Also, the play ends with a recorded police interview, aggressively terminated by the officer who said they didn’t believe a word of the suspect’s excuses. I’m no expert, but that’s not how they do it on 24 Hours in Police Custody! The police are normally at pains to tell the suspect that this is their opportunity to explain what happened; they’re usually very grateful not to just hear a string of “no comments”. So that also struck me as highly unlikely – particularly as it’s on the record.

The play set up a good level of intrigue and mystery but for me didn’t have quite enough highlight moments of comedy, horror or suspense that would have kept it going forwards. Nevertheless, enjoyable, and technically flawless, congratulations to all!