Unsurprisingly, The Flick is about a cinema – a movie theatre in Worcester County, Massachusetts.
It’s summer 2012 and the first shift of The Flick’s newest employee: earnest film nerd Avery (Jaygann Ayer) is learning the ropes from pedantic Sam (Matthew Maher). They sweep up popcorn and make desultory chitchat. A few scenes later, we meet green-haired Rose (Louisa Krause), an impetuous projectionist.
And that’s it for three and a quarter hours: Avery, Sam and Rose trudge in and out of the run-down auditorium, which is so authentic you can almost smell it. The action, or lack of it, is almost defiantly naturalistic. At one point, Rose and Avery scuttle off and the audience are left staring at the banks of empty seats. A minute later, we see their heads bobbing in the projection room’s little windows, but we can’t hear what they’re saying.
It doesn’t sound like a mega-hit. Yet The Flick was garlanded with awards and acclaim when it debuted in New York because it makes manages to make the humdrum as moving and gripping as any Hollywood hit. Between the idle squabbles about movies, we slowly learn more about Avery and Sam, who are both nursing a broken heart.
Jaygann Ayeh as Avery and Louisa Krause as Rose; above, Ayeh and Matthew Maher as Sam
It’s also very funny thanks to impeccable comic timing from all three leads. On the night Radio Times was in the audience, Krause (who along with Maher starred in the off-Broadway production) won a spontaneous round of applause for her cringe-worthy dancing.
Last but not least, The Flick is a lament for the death of celluloid. Between 2011 and 2013, cheaper digital projection replaced reels of film in most cinemas – a threat that hangs over Worcester County’s theatre, which boasts one of the last 35-mm film projectors in the state.
But there’s no need to be a movie buff like Avery to be beguiled by this unusual play. The Flick is an antidote to special effects-stuffed blockbusters – in both kinds of theatres.
The Flick is at the National Theatre until 15 June
Book West End tickets from the Radio Times box office