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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Flick
Dorfman Theatre  Spring 2016

This import from Off-Broadway is one of those plays in which nothing seems to happen and yet by the end you feel you know all there is to know about the characters. 

The only problems are that there turns out to be not all that much to know about the characters, and three and a half hours of nothing seeming to happen may not feel like the most cost-effective use of your time. 

Playwright Annie Baker puts us in a small American cinema, one of the last to project reels of film rather than digital images. In a string of short scenes set in the intervals between screenings we meet the cleaning guys and the female projectionist. 

They chat, gossip, bitch about the boss, play film-buff games, tut-tut over the sloppy customers, relate seemingly irrelevant anecdotes, and gradually let slip little insights into themselves. 

It cannot come as much of a surprise to learn that they are all damaged or losers in some way. 

The new guy is a college kid taking time off after a bad semester led to a suicide attempt, the older guy is slowly coming to grips with the fact that this menial job is as good as his life is going to get, and the woman admits that she really isn't capable of emotional connection beyond raw sex. 

Somebody helps somebody, somebody pines in love for somebody, somebody betrays somebody, somebody gets fired. 

They are all living in a kind of stasis, waiting for their real lives to begin and not really expecting them to. And at the end we don't really know very much more about them than we gleaned in the first half-hour or so, because it turns out that there really isn't very much more to them. 

Playwright Baker wears her influences openly. The nostalgia for a romanticised image of a disappearing Americana, here in the form of the boy's pain at the displacement of real film by digital projection, harks back to Lanford Wilson's plays of the 1970s, and through them to Tennessee Williams. 

From Williams also comes the sympathy for the weak and wounded, and from William Inge the insight that the small lives of small people are made up entirely of small events. 

But does it take more than three hours to show us this? 

You can understand that Annie Baker chose to write several scenes in which essentially the same things happen, in order to say that these are lives of unchanging repetitions. But the point could probably have been made with one or two fewer reiterations. 

In an admirable striving for realism the playwright and the director Sam Gold give these slow-thinking and inarticulate characters real difficulty in communicating. 

But that means that every interaction is marked by unfinished sentences, hesitancies to open up, and awkward pauses long enough to make even Harold Pinter squirm impatiently. 

It sometimes feels like half the play consists of them looking silently at or away from each other, trying to decide what to say. 

The cast Matthew Maher (older), Jaygann Ayeh (younger) and Louisa Krause (girl), along with Sam Heron in a couple of bit parts are impeccable, finding and communicating all the little that there is in the characters. 

And the play and direction give you plenty of opportunity to turn your attention away from the story to admire the technical achievements of the actors. 

There is probably an excellent quietly touching low-budget 90-minute art movie hidden within this play. But The Flick is more than twice that length, and what power it has is dissipated in all those lengthy silences.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Flick  - National Theatre 2016  
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