The Flick, National Theatre, review: ‘Flickers of magic but lights are dim’

The Flick. Picture: Mark Douet

The Flick. Picture: Mark Douet - Credit: Archant

In the States, Annie Baker is the biggest thing since sliced bread – buttered with Bard.

‘The Flick’ won the Pulitzer in 2014 and all her plays, including the quietly unsettling ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’, run and run.

Baker’s not nearly as big over here and that’s a proper shame: she makes life glow in strange and thrilling ways.

But this British premiere of ‘The Flick’, which unfolds in a Masachusetts cinema, feels strangely subdued.

There are flickers of magic but the lights are dim.

The show is helmed by Baker’s go-to-director Sam Gold, who takes the script at a near glacial pace.

Very little happens, very slowly, as we watch new cinema usher Avery (Jaygann Ayeh) learn the ropes alongside old-hand Sam (Matthew Maher) and surly projectionist Rose (Louisa Krause).

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In a cinema designed with grim exactness by David Zinn (the seats are spattered with gum), Avery and Sam sweep and mop – and talk about movies. There are subtle betrayals and fleeting acts of kindness, but everything simmers at the lowest possible setting.

This stubborn refusal to speed things up is an integral part of Baker’s play – it wouldn’t work at a polished clip – but it’s pretty tough going.

‘The Flick’ has a lot to say about the speed at which we live our lives and the screens we hide behind.

The play takes place on the cusp of cinema’s shift to digital; a movement from the ‘truthful’ flickering of projected film to the series of dots that make up a digital movie.

It’s a shift – a sort of ironing out – that we’ve absorbed in our daily lives without even thinking about it. Baker’s play forces us to live life at a different pace; to step away from our laptops and stop and think and listen.

It can be quite agonizing and the energy of the actors - with depressed Avery, droll Sam and aloof Rose – is pretty flat in places.

But it’s also funny and charming, a complete one-off and eerily realistic.

The production gradually engulfs us until, without realising it, we’re no longer watching ‘The Flick’. We’re watching real-life.

The Flick is at The National Theatre.

Rating: 3/5 stars.