The title of Christine Harmar-Brown’s four-hander is an allusion to Andy Warhol’s ubiquitous quote on the nature of fame. It’s a somewhat obvious reference to make, and symptomatic of her approach in general. As a writer, she seems intent on smothering the genuinely interesting character study at the heart of her story with heavy-handed and unilluminating debate about today’s media age.
Seventeen-year-old Toni has just got out of prison and is eager to turn her life around, to make something of herself. Documentary-maker Maggie thinks that Toni’s journey would make the perfect basis for her new film. But after a few initial difficulties – with Toni’s aggressive and suspicious boyfriend Mason, with her own lack of self-belief – she’s soon diligently working her way through beauty school. Finding herself with a distinct shortage of ratings-grabbing footage, Maggie becomes increasingly frustrated by Toni’s inability to open up to the camera about her troubled past.
This sounds like the basis for a rather broad media satire, but Harmar-Brown, a former script editor for Casualty, offers up something more naturalistic and potentially more diverting. The central relationship, between Maggie and Toni, is an interesting one. They slowly develop a mother-daughter dynamic as well as one of director-subject, something they both exploit over the course if the play.
The two women initially come across as class stereotypes, Toni with her tracksuit and her ‘am-I-bovvered?’ demeanour, Maggie with her clipped middle class vowels and patronising attitude, but thanks to some emotionally believable dialogue and some decent performances – particularly from Carly Hillman as the complicated Toni – they are both gradually humanised.
The play is keen to tell us that truth is a flexible concept when it comes to what we see, edited and tidily packaged, on the television. This is not a shock. And the play gets too quickly bogged down in the issue, forcing itself into some awkward corners as a result. The ending is messy (in more than one sense), with a twist that tries too hard to make a point, stretching credibility and, as a result, diluting the emotional impact it was supposed to have.
Paul Jepson’s production interweaves the onstage scenes with pre-filmed footage of Maggie’s ‘documentary,’ of Toni confiding in the camera. These are effective but the play as a whole is in real need of tightening up; as it is, it’s repetitious and meandering. A sub-plot featuring Maggie’s married boyfriend Robin has little bearing on the plot, except to illustrate that middle class academics have messy relationships too, and to supply an articulate mouthpiece for some of Harmar-Brown’s arguments.
Where 15 Minutes works best is in the sympathetic and plausible portrait it presents of a damaged young woman trying to find her place in the world. Harmar-Brown would have done better focusing more on this and less on the undercooked media studies lecture that the play ends up becoming.