Annie Baker returns to the National Theatre with The Antipodes – she does not change my mind about her
“We don’t feel like we have to self-censor and we can all just sit around telling stories. Because that’s where the good stuff comes from”
I’ve tried with Annie Baker, I really have. And Circle Mirror Transformation did it for me, both times. But the plaudits rained on The Flick and John baffled me as both left me extremely cold and her latest play to premiere in the UK, 2017’s The Antipodes, is very much in that latter mould, creeping naturalism that seems to defy the laws of time themselves.
Insomuch as a Baker play is about anything, The Antipodes is about storytelling, kind of. A group of people sit in a conference room telling stories and pulling them apart, looking for inspiration but for what, we never really know. And as any kind of leadership offers by the chairman-ish Sandy fades away, something apocalyptically dark looms outside.
Baker co-directs with designer Chloe Lamford and so there’s no mistaking this is how she intends the play to be, but it is just so painstakingly studious in its every beat, in its every detail, that it is hard not to find it incredibly wearying, especially in its interval-free second hour. Some find relevance in this approach to micro-managing our attention but I need to find a way to say no more thank you.
It’s hard though, when she can attract a cast as talented as this. Conleth Hill’s Sandy is perfectly suited to the quasi-leader role, the ever-excellent Sinéad Matthews is…excellent, and Stuart McQuarrie punches through with one of the more memorable tales. But it’s all for naught as I longed for the stories to stop.