John and May were sixth-form lovers who haven’t seen each other in five years. One evening, the end of the world is announced. In a moment of lonely panic, May calls John. Can she come over? Five weeks later, the world is still standing but the pair are trapped in John’s studio apartment.
The stage, a basic student flat with a jar of marmite, oatcakes and board games, is opened up to the audience, giving the sense of watching the protagonists through a pane of glass, much like animals in a zoo.
A compelling case study of what happens to us in such an intense situation, the play’s characters lurch through the most profound of topics, usually triggered by a minor inconvenience that quickly escalates into a raging head-to-head argument. In all of this, the play is surprisingly human.
The frenzy that has gripped May in this apocalyptic scenario is palpable right from the start. From the death of John’s beloved cactus to the killing of kittens and then to suicidal fantasies, the first argument between May and John perfectly grasps how the human mind spirals out of control in an ominous combination of cabin fever and the anticipation of the world’s end.
While May is the over-strung realist stretched to the limit of her nerves, John counters her frenzy with a determined calm, always clinging to hope and insisting on sticking to the cleaning rota and strict co-habitation rules to give their days structure and drive. With May being notoriously chaotic, one can imagine how well this works out.
Having gone through lockdowns, some of the play’s scenes are relatable. May screaming “I am soooo bored” and yearning for juicy heartbreak gossip, as well as getting rid of excess energy by releasing it with frantic movements, might remind you of your own behaviour during the past months. Other more dramatic scenes do not, as the dialogue descends into realms that even people who are very close would want to avoid. Still, the absurd conversations that would usually freak anyone out, become natural, fitting, and quite entertaining in this setting.
With great playwriting and acting, this play is captivating and serious even in the most absurd moments. 100 Seconds to Midnight is an entertaining, thought-provoking and funny play that convincingly traces the last moves of May and John, giving the audience an hour of escapism into the abysses and stellar moments of human life.
100 Seconds to Midnight is showing at Greenside@Infirmary Street, August 18th-20th, 22nd-27th (14+) at 11:40.
Featured image: Henry Gunningham, provided to The Student as press material.