"Feel free to watch this"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 06/08/10

According to writer Trent Burton's programme note for The Twenty Minute Policy, when you put two strangers in a room they 'more often than not end up talking about the same one thing.' It's not clear from the programme what that one thing might be, and the play itself, I felt, offers a number of possibilities as to what this might be. But one interpretation is that people have a natural drive to debate the limits of freedom, the merits of conformity versus rebellion. (Indeed, it may be no coincidence that my friend and I came out of the theatre and launched into a discussion about radical Sixties politics.) When you are subject to forces beyond your control, do you continue to allow those unseen forces to dictate your own actions in the name of social order - or do you see the legitimacy of taking control yourself, possibly risking chaos?

With undertones of both Kafka and Beckett - and many a moral philosopher besides - Burton's nuanced and well-observed script is in competent hands with Charlotte Sutherland and Gigi Burgdorf as Tess and Lisa as they do battle over the physical and psychological boundaries of personal freedom.

Though some ambiguity remains about the exact setting (the more the play develops the more we question all kinds of assumptions), Tess and Lisa are ostensibly in the visiting room of a women's prison, waiting for their relatives to arrive. There is no guard in the room (though there is a CCTV camera), and their visitors are already 45 minutes late when the play begins. Lisa, who likes to talk, strikes up a conversation with Tess - who claims she doesn't (though she has a lot of fronts…). Neither is prepared to tell the other what they are doing time for, and this suspends our moral judgement in a way which allows us instead to engage more fully with their personalities and vulnerabilities. Instead their hour-long exchange becomes a debate about whither - and why for - the rules that supposedly govern their daily existence (Lisa's read the rule book, Tess only the 'funny bits') remain operational now that the 'twenty minute policy' seems to have fallen apart.

The strength of the play is in the dynamics between two entirely difficult but equally infuriating people. Ultimately we may feel that Tess' independent spirit wins the day, especially after a male warden (David Swain is equally strong as the life-baffled Andrew) throws all suppositions into confusion; but we perhaps feel more sympathetic to Lisa, beholden to social expectations and institutions as we all are, and unable or unwilling to embrace an unregulated idea of freedom. And, after all, many of the philosophers that Tess reads instead of the rule book point out that we do, in fact, need the rules.

Probing and well-acted, though guilty of sagging slightly in the middle and perhaps lacking some contextual credibility, The Twenty Minute Policy is a thoughtful contribution to this year's Camden Fringe.

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