During the Cold War, the “four-minute warning” was the amount of time we’d have had to seek shelter in the face of a nuclear bomb. To younger generations, the prospect of a countdown to apocalypse lasting such a specific length of time may feel pretty far-fetched; add to that a whole host of seemingly modern characters, who are either indifferent to their impending end or far more concerned about something relatively minor, and the premise of the show becomes quite bizarre.
Bizarre and far-fetched can be great – especially when supported by strong characters, funny writing and a sense of escapism. But it can also lead to disconnection and confusion, which unfortunately I feel is the case here. The scenario raises plenty of questions: chiefly, what has happened and why? We never seem to find out, and if the characters know, they aren't letting us in on the answer. Because people come and go so quickly in 4 Minute Warning, we don't really get to know much about them either, and so the piece becomes a series of quite repetitive skits where it can be tricky keeping track of who's who.
There's a great deal of shouting and yelling, which – along with some over-enthusiastic mugging – did mark it out for me as a stereotypically student production. However, there are well-observed characters at points and a few spot-on accents thrown in, especially during some fun scenes featuring cockroaches engaged in a Brexit-style battle. Undoubtedly my favourite moment involved the two cockroaches improvising responses to questions from the audience; this section had arguably the funniest lines, and by moving away from the script for few moments, I felt the two actors developed a more natural form of dialogue while remaining fully in character.
The pair work very hard throughout, coping well with the constant and unrelenting changes required to create so many scenes. It can’t be easy to ensure that everything and everyone is in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time – yet it all runs very smoothly, with no hint of awkward gaps or mistakes. As each skit is so short, many lasting only a few seconds, the process is all the more onerous yet impressive in its success.
Overall, I felt this production didn't quite work, although I could imagine some of the humour appealing particularly to a student demographic. But it was performed with total commitment – and proved to be pretty flawless in terms of energy, enthusiasm, and the impressive juggling of a multitude of props and costumes.