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The Flick tackles social issues, makes a comedy out of movie theatre cleaning crews, and offers startling insights on the melancholic death of film cameras for big budget features. And it does all of that with a couple of plush seats and three actors.

The play, written by Annie Baker, has racked up quite a few prestigious awards – the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting, for example. Its awards are notable and after watching the play in Sydney’s Seymour Theatre, after successful runs in London and New York, it’s clear they’re well-deserved.

Its story centres around three movie theatre employees, each with their own charms and vices – Avery (Justin Amankwah), the timid new employee, is tack-sharp when it comes to movies but awkward everywhere else; Sam (Jeremy Waters), the one who’s been there for too long, is plagued by his status in both his life and career; and Rose (Mia Lethbridge), the constantly lounging projectionist, who has her own issues with relationships. All of them fumble their way through every social encounter, having moments of connection and disconnection in turn. Each character is vivid enough to keep the audience interested.

Image by Marnya Rothe

What makes the play even more remarkable is how sparse it is, in terms of production design – the three main characters are largely the only ones in the play, with the exception of an occasional fourth. The set is made solely of a couple rows of cinema seats, with a door offstage and a projectionist’s booth above. There’s the constant presence of cleaning equipment and spilled popcorn that Avery and Sam are endlessly clearing up after every movie.

The stage design is also notable, in that it puts the audience in an unusual position. Sitting in seats facing the theatre, the play is from the perspective of what it would be like if the characters on cinema screens were looking at the audience. At one point, Avery and Rose are watching a movie and staring at the screen – the spectators, turned into a spectacle for the characters.

As one might expect from people so immersed in the world of cinema, the characters sometimes fall prey to the same fictitious representations of reality that they’re paid to screen. Avery would rather be watching movies, and one of Sam’s speeches is decried by Rose as being more like acting out a scene than his true feelings. The fact that their lives are so heavily intertwined with stories makes itself known in their interactions with each other, which border on overly dramatic.

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Image by Marnya Rothe

Nevertheless, there are elements of it so truthful that it almost feels too much – moral conundrums, mental illness, the struggles of making ends meet with a low-paying job. The cinema screens 35mm film, throwing it back to the old days of cinema projection, and the slow turn to digital film is seen in the play as a sorrowful event, a recognition of how moving forward doesn’t come without heartbreak. It can be crass at times, as a warning to more conservative play-goers, but head into it with an open mind. If you can see past the colloquialisms, you’ll find something immensely clever.

The play runs at the Seymour Theatre from the 5th to the 21st of April. For more information on times and tickets, head to the play’s official webpage.

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