How do teenagers today navigate the constant pressure placed on their shoulders by society? What happens when everyone’s individual issues coalesce into a melting pot of anxieties and frustrations? These are the questions asked by Strange Town’s Seven Minutes in Heaven, written by Shelley Middler and directed by Catherine Ward-Stoddart.
It’s the summer holidays and a group of teenagers are finally able to blow off steam at a house party hosted by Zach (Cormac MacLachlan). Events are in full swing as the audience take their seats with a multitude of stories unfolding. The lights go out, and when they return, there has been an attack – but what happened? Panicking, the teens attempt to help their friend while formulating a story that will protect themselves.
Rewind one hour and the audience becomes privy to the night’s events. Matt (Ruby Tansey) just wants to talk openly with Zach, Luke (Daisi Ross) tries to convince their friends to try poppers, Elle (May Bruce) and Fraser (Joe Wintour) have a heart-to-heart while playing seven minutes in heaven, and Flora (Frida Ovani-Finnegan) learns that the nudes she sent to her ex-boyfriend have been circulated amongst their peers. All the while, characters are pulled aside to be interrogated by the police over the attack – with the audience serving as voyeurs-come-interrogators.
These moments allow the characters to further explore and ultimately confess their insecurities. The tragedy here, though, is that the police, and subsequently the world at large, don’t care; they simply want to know the facts. The apathy that they are met with only adds further fuel to their stress. These are heavy issues, but the 14-18 years olds who make up the cast handle them well.
There’s a lot going on, and Seven Minutes in Heaven covers a lot of ground. Even when attention is drawn to one side of the stage for conversations, it’s hard not to peek across to see what’s happening elsewhere. Being onstage for the full show can be a big ask of any actor, but the cast tackle it with gusto, allowing for subtle moments of levity as the cast add subtle touches that really help define their characters.
There are some excellent performances too, with MacLachlan and Tansey being particular stand outs. Their characters’ frustrations build to an excellent crescendo: MacLachlan especially conveys a great deal of pain and inner turmoil that makes his final outburst all the more explosive.
Some moments need tightening but with its smart staging and enthusiastic cast, Seven Minutes in Heaven is a credit to Strange Town and all involved. While it’s been wonderful to see theatre return to a live environment in the wake of the lockdowns, it’s even better to see young talent take to the stage and be given a chance to display the wealth of talent on offer.