The Flick***** (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: April 26, 2016 in Theatre

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Looked at cynically, Annie Baker’s extraordinary Pulitzer Prize winning play could be taken as a demonstration of how to cram one hour’s worth of dialogue into three hours of stage time. If Samuel Beckett had set about writing Cinema Paradiso, the outcome could have been something like this glimpse into the lives of three lost souls doing menial jobs in an art house “movie theater” somewhere in Massachusetts. They sweep up popcorn between screenings, play games of movie star Six Degrees of Separation, flirt clumsily with each other and debate whether Pulp Fiction is a better film than Avatar (can there really be any doubt about that?!). Baker tells us a little about her characters’ worlds outside, but very little, leaving us with the impression that they are trapped here, statuesque amid rows of empty seats, just as Beckett characters could be trapped up to their necks in a pile of sand. Sam Gold’s production, as instructed by the play’s text, is filled with short and long pauses and, at several points, the stage is left empty in the middle of scenes while characters disappear upstairs to the projection room. The silences make the production feel more stylised than natural, but the effect is mesmerising and the characters become embedded in our heads as real. Jaygann Ayeh, a British actor, plays Avery, a 20-year old cinephile, suffering from depression. He is new to the job, taking tentative steps into work a year after a failed suicide attempt. His stooped demeanour, his look of bewilderment and the sad tone of his voice suggest that he has accepted defeat, but, in fact, he is only waiting for the spur that will ignite his life and unleash his potential. This is a truly wonderful, haunting performance. Matthew Maher (Sam) and Louisa Krause (Rose) have transferred with the play from New York and they inhabit their roles with perfect ease. Both characters are established in their jobs and induct Avery into the tricks of the trade, but both are drifting aimlessly, struggling to find some meaning to existence. The play is a minor celebration of the humdrum and also it is an elegy for the passing of an era, the replacement of celluloid film with digital being seen as a metaphor for the lowering of moral standards in friendship and in life. Avery clings to his high standards and Baker offers a glimmer of hope for him. Anyone going to this production can expect to see empty seats after the interval. They can also expect to laugh a lot, cry a little and, yes, to yawn, but for those with the wisdom to stick with it, the rewards are enormous.

Performance date: 20 April 2016

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