The Antipodes (Red Stitch) – theatre review

A group of writers sit around a boardroom table trying to come up with a compelling story in Annie Baker’s latest play, The Antipodes, now showing at Red Stitch in Melbourne.

Under the watchful eyes of their older mentor in Sandy (Jim Daly) the group of seven – though only one woman, Eleanor (Ngaire Dawn Fair) – are asked to open themselves up. The rules are that one of them – Brian (Casey Filips) – will take notes; they won’t be asked to work past 7 pm; and their weekends will be free. But that’s not how it turns out.

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

It starts with a conversation about monsters and quickly moves to intimate details of first sexual encounters. Some are more giving than others and more comfortable doing so. Some stories go further than others, some are esoteric, some real, others imaginary.

Sandy indicates they will find him a decent boss … and he makes a point of mentioning he has rarely sacked a writer. But during the play, someone no longer finds themselves at the table and Sandy becomes notable for his absences. Along the way the writers are fed, courtesy of Sandy’s gregarious personal assistant, Sarah (Edwina Samuels). She also asks them to sign a second confidentiality agreement. She also delivers one of the more compelling stories, when Sandy asks her to do so.

At one stage, the group connect with Sandy’s boss via a decidedly ropey audio connection and 3D glasses. As days turn to weeks and then months, the pressure ramps up. Clearly nothing has yet hit the mark and even without Sandy there, the crew is expected to deliver, pulling all-nighters and staying over weekends. Their mission becomes increasingly desperate and frenzied and ridiculous.

At 110 minutes without interval, The Antipodes becomes as much of an endurance test for us as it does for the disparate souls stuck in the boardroom. I needed to care more for the characters, to build a greater affinity with them. There is a lot of talk; but it’s all talk and little action.

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

As much as I cared for the first half hour or so, and later thought something could be made of the collective unraveling, as far as I’m concerned it all came to nought and that was a disappointment.

I did, however, appreciate the staging (Chloe Greaves was responsible for set and costume design). The audience surrounds the players from both sides of the boardroom table, bringing all patrons closer to the action. Directed by Ella Caldwell, The Antipodes is on at Red Stitch Theatre until 12 August 2018.

Alex First

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