01 Nov Theatre Review: It Only Takes a Minute | Strand Arts Centre Belfast
For many, the words “one-woman show” brings to mind that Friends episode. You know the one. With the furious actress yelling at the audience “CHAPTER ONE – MY FIRST PERIOD.” I’ve personally always liked the idea of a one-woman show though and c21 Theatre’s ‘It Only Takes a Minute’ promised to be a candid insight into a life lived with undiagnosed Aspergers, something which may actually be more common than you’d think. A particularly pertinent subject matter during a time of increasing awareness of disabilities and mental health within the cultural consciousness.
Co-authored and directed by local theatre producer, director and writer Tom Rowntree Finlay, ‘It Only Takes A Minute’ introduces us to Michelle (played by co-author Anna Kyle) a 26 year old who has been diagnosed with Aspergers.
The stage set up lets us see into a bedroom consisting of a wall hung with blank picture frames at jaunty angles. One sole poster of Disney’s Snow White and the 7 Dwarves is stuck in the centre, amid these blank frames. Five blocks form the furniture of the bedroom, plastered with various Take That posters. On one of the blocks sits an electrical device rarely spotted nowadays – a CD player.
On a darkened stage the play opens with Michelle pacing around in calculated steps and directions, singing “Patience” by Take That – our initial introduction to the music of Take That within a play filled with their music. In her hand she holds a piece of paper and reads the single word “Aspergers” from it. Light fills the darkened stage as short excerpts of Take That’s number one hits are played in succession and Michelle recites each hit’s year without any pause to think about it.
Bounding around her bedroom with excitement about having a copy of Smash Hits, Michelle reads an interview with Take That and makes the important decision about picking a favourite member. The excitement found in the magazine awakens a nostalgia, certainly for myself anyway, in the joy of reading about your favourite bands and getting pull-out posters for your bedroom. As Michelle reads out the Take That band members favourite colours I remembered reading a Smash Hits interview with Busted back in the day and getting extremely excited about the fact that Matt’s “perfect girl” would be a Leo (I’m a Leo!).
It’s through this interchange between child-like excitement and awkward adolescent striving to be “grown-up” that Anna Kyle plays Michelle so well. The rite of passage between child and adolescent is summarised perfectly with the solemnity in swapping the Snow White poster for a Take That poster. Of course, the transition isn’t as smooth as changing a poster on the wall though.
As the on-stage lighting softens, we’re brought back to the current day. Michelle’s excitement melts away into wistfulness. “Being a 15 year old girl was… complicated” she posits and the stage goes dark for a few moments, leaving the audience with this thought. As the spotlight hits the stage again we’re brought back to Michelle’s bedroom. Entering armed with the all too familiar sight of a school bag, PE kit and hockey stick. Confiding in her Take That posters that she had a bad day at school, Michelle’s tear-streaked singing is both touching and cringe-worthy in its earnestness.
Michelle’s reflections back on her teenage years aren’t all comprised of nostalgia and wistfulness however, there is humour throughout the narrative too. A particular highlight is the point where some serious shade is thrown at Mr Blobby, of all people. The words “spotty pink bastard” were thrown about in a fit of rage brought on by Take That’s failure to reach Christmas number one.
Moving through emotional extremes encompassing excitement, longing, anxiety, anger and sadness, ‘It Only Takes a Minute’ reminds us of how difficult it can be navigating our teenage years and how having a disability such as Aspergers ultimately heightens the struggle.
Throughout the play Michelle is left on her own and her parents and teachers seem to have little understanding or even willingness to try and understand how she struggles with her school work and with managing her emotions.
There can’t be many who cannot relate to the emotionally bumpy road of being a teenager. ‘It Only Takes a Minute’ reminds us all of the solace that can be found in music, especially in our darkest moments, and how keenly music speaks to us as teenagers.
However, Michelle turns to Take That in lieu of actual human support and in her darkest moments this lack of support leaves her more isolated than ever. It’s upon this realisation that the stage turns dark. It feels like a very inconclusive ending, as though the play is on the cusp of a hinging point but then leaves us hanging. We’re left with more questions than answers; but aren’t the thought provoking plays often the best?
You can catch ‘It Only Takes a Minute’ at The Mac from 7th November to 10th November.