Review: The Flick, National Theatre

“Sometimes I worry that there’s something really, really wrong with me but that I’ll never know exactly what it is.”

Already garlanded with a Pulitzer Prize and bolstered by articles insisting that “slow theatre” is a thing, it is clear that we’re meant to think that Annie Baker’s The Flick in all its 3 hours plus glory is close to the Second Coming. The reality is a play that it is just a very long time in a theatre for deliberately muted rewards. And it is deliberate, it is precise. Along with frequent collaborator and director Sam Gold, the simple act of mopping up the floor of a movie theatre is strictly regimented, the many pauses surrounding it measured down to the last, slow, tick of the second hand. 

The Flick is set in small-town Massachusetts in a run-down, single-screen cinema and lets us follow the lives of regular folk that work there, three people living humdrum lives in a humdrum world. At 35, Sam has worked there the longest but he’s still just sweeping popcorn; 24 year old Rose has been promoted over him to projectionist but her spiky exterior belies a vulnerable uncertainty; and just turned 20 and taking a break from college, Avery is dealing with emotional issues that set him at odds with his co-workers, especially once a pseudo-love-triangle starts to form. 

Everything is in a minor key, subtle nuances about the disappointments of life which rarely lives up to the cinematic dream whether in would-be seductive hip-hop dancing, handjobs in the back row or tentative declarations of love. And in these moments, The Flick sparks with life even as disappointment often comes swooping in quickly to extinguish it, Michael Maher, Louisa Krause and Jaygann Ageh giving us all the painful awkwardness of lives that just might have peaked, suffused with the fear that “it’s never gonna get better”. 

But it’s a real job getting to those moments. Vast swathes of the play are taken up with silences, pauses that might have been poignant but end up portentous, a sense of self-indulgence taking over as scenes and sequences run on and on (the literally gloomy telephone therapy session for one, the flickering interludes of film credits running over the audiences’ faces for another). Some might take tis as an opportunity to savour the moment, luxuriate in the extended gaze into this despondency; others might find their patience wearing thin, and rolling their eyes at a final grace-note of hope that scarcely seems earned. 

Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 15th June

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