Returning after a critically acclaimed sell-out season in 2014, Red Stitch’s The Flick is a lesson in what happens when a great script meets a great director and a great ensemble of actors.
Set in a movie theatre, The Flick centres around Avery, Sam and Rose, all workers at the cinema, where they spend their evenings sweeping popcorn and trying to keep their heads above water. Avery (Kevin Hofbauer) is the newcomer, a film nut who has taken the job because the cinema is one of the last in the state to still use a 35mm projector. We open on his first shift, where old-timer Sam (Ben Prendergast), in his thirties, living with his parents and stuck in a dead-end job, is showing him the ropes. Enter Rose (Ngaire Dawn Fair), the green-haired twenty-something projectionist who does not walk but father flits and sashays. It makes for an intriguing trio, comprised of characters often considered to mundane to be examined in the limelight.
As Rose, the always-impressive Dawn Fair puts in another solid performance. She avoids making Rose yet another Manic Pixie Dream Girl by imbuing her humour and spark, while allowing us to see her vulnerabilities and flaws. Ben Prendergast is fantastic as Sam, and his exploration of the character’s light and shade, his happiness and desperate sadness, was disciplined and moving. Hofbauer is also impressive as Avery, giving him a complexity and emotional depth that goes beyond his nerdy stereotype to reveal the troubled young man that rests at the heart Avery’s many facades. Special mention must also go to Dion Mills, whose cameo appearance made me think that Spencer, the down-and-out alcoholic recently played by Mills in Red Stitch’s production of Wet House – had come good and found himself working in the cinema of The Flick!
Direction from Nadia Tass is solid and nuanced; she allows the actors to shine, directing them to revel both in silence and in speech, and using the barriers formed by the cinema seats to great affect. Set design by Shaun Gurton works well in this intimate space, and lighting by David Parker (assisted by Clare Springett), is solid in a play that leaves little room for creative lighting. Sound design by Russell Goldsmith & Daniel Nixon worked beautifully to evoke the humdrum that descends on a cinema as the credits roll.
The Flick is all about minutiae, and there is no doubt that Annie Bake, who won the 2014 Pulitzer for this script, is a formidable playwright. Its narrative structure is almost Godot-esque: nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes. To be fair to Baker, people do come and go in this play, and there is a discernible plot, but like Beckett, the beauty of it comes down to the language. Her attention to the speech patterns and emotional rhythms of each character is almost Chekhovian, and its examination of modern American life takes its lead from the likes of Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams. The Flick is no doubt a play that could only have risen in the shadow of the great playwrights of the twentieth century.
Baker’s characters are those who would otherwise be left loitering in the background; the extras in a film. In lifting these forgotten souls and placing them front and centre, however, she mobilises a story of our shared humanity, and reminds us that we are all bound by our insecurities. There are moments of great poignancy in this play: Avery’s desperate call to his therapist, Sam’s profession of his feelings toward Rose, Rose and Avery’s after-hours encounter, and the closing scene between Sam and Avery are a just a few moments that made my heart clench. But while this play was perfectly engaging and Red Stitch’s production impressive, it is not a play that will haunt me.
Ultimately, I was left feeling that perhaps the real depth would reach me if I were American, and was watching it as someone who could personally engage with the unspoken social and economic limits of the characters. While there was universality to the characters’ experiences, and I was engaged throughout, it did not move me, and left me thinking rather than feeling.
Still, Red Stitch’s production is admirable, and definitely worth a look. Adding to this year’s diverse season, The Flick is a welcome shift from Red Stitch’s familiar “man and woman in an apartment with relationship troubles”, and it makes for an engaging and thought-provoking evening in the theatre.