Ben Prendergast as Sam, Ngaire Dawn Fair as Rose, Kevin Hofbauer as Avery. Image by David Parker.
In association with the Melbourne International Film Festival, Red Stitch’s The Flick is more than adequate for film buffs. There are references to Truffaut, Pulp Fiction, the steady decline of the 35mm film, and a game similar to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (here’s a tough one: What’s the connection between Michael J. Fox and Britney Spears?) But as with every good movie, The Flick goes one step further than simply being something for film geeks. Filled with a keen sense of emotional truth, The Flick is a poignant piece of theatre that deftly explores human nature.
Twenty-year-old film-obsessed Avery (Kevin Hofbauer) joins one of the last remaining film projector cinemas in Massachusetts. The thirty-something Sam (Ben Prendergast) shows Avery around and Rose (Ngaire Dawn Fair), the blue-haired projectionist, often drops by. For most of the play, the characters are basically cleaning the grimy floor. The repetitive sweeping and mopping is dull, mind-numbing work, yet it provides a space for the underpaid employees to banter about their favourite films, astrology, and the splitting of ‘dinner money’ stolen from receipts.
Being part of the intimate space of Speakeasy Cinema, Shebeen is an excellent venue for The Flick. The stage consists of well-worn seats found in a dingy, small cinema, and the film projector occasionally shows glimpses of movies on the ceiling. For a three-hour long play, the compact area feels far from confined, mainly due to The Flick’s strongly defined characters. It takes a while for the play to kick in, but The Flick rewards the audience’s attention by gradually revealing their personal backstories. Most strikingly, The Flick is crammed with the feelings of inadequacy shared by the characters. This results in an emotionally charged play, where the yearning for someone, or something greater, becomes all too familiar.
The cast are brilliant in their roles, subtly displaying these aching affections with utmost sincerity. With his afro and glasses, Hofbeaur looks akin to The IT Crowd’s Moss, but proves to be more than a plain nerdy caricature. He speaks in careful cadences, and gives a thoroughly engaging performance throughout the night. Prendergast is a delight to watch, and his desperate attempts to gain Rose’s attention is both heartbreaking and endearing. Fair, too, perfectly captures her character’s carefree indifference, down to her cool-casual attire and her half-hearted shrugs. Fair is purely enthralling in a scene-stealing dance sequence, where she moves as though she’s alone in her bedroom, a stunning display of both the blasé and the vulnerable.
Additionally, Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-prize winning script is worthy of the title. The nuanced script consists of truly beautiful prose that results in a deep feeling of empathy for the trio onstage. For instance, The Flick‘s most stirring scene is when Avery is alone on the phone and begins talking about a vivid dream he had. Avery’s engaging tale unveils his hopes and fears, despite the seemingly shallow subject matter of dreams and movies. Baker’s writing also hints about the flimsy nature of narrative elements found in film and theatre. At one point in the play, Avery admits that he sees everyone as ‘stereotypes’. It is such a gloriously self-reflexive point that rings true in regards to the symbiotic relationship between fiction and reality, but Baker fortunately never overindulges in her meta commentary.
Nadia Tass shows her expertise in directing this telling drama jammed with wonderful writing, the cast’s exceptional naturalistic acting and the oh-so-painful theme of longing. Oddly enough, movies act as the backdrop for The Flick, and the play is not strictly theatrical, there’s no conventional climax or plot-propelling action, for example. Yet by exploring the delicate nature of the human connection with a tender finesse, The Flick very much represents the epitome of theatre.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
Directed by Nadia Tass
With Ngaire Dawn Fair, Dion Mills, Ben Prendergast & Kevin Hofbauer
Set Designer Shaun Gurton
Lighting Designer David Parker
Assistant Lighting Designer Clare Springett
Sound Designer Russell Goldsmith & Daniel Nixon
Production Manager Dawn Holland
Stage Manager Rebekah Gibbs
Assistant Stage Manager Melissa Place
Shebeen, 36 Manchester Lane, Melbourne
2 – 17 August