Review: The Antipodes

November 1, 2019
  • Rating:
National Theatre

Writing stories is hard. This seems to be the message behind Annie Baker’s new play The Antipodes, an excrutiating, self-indulgent insight into the misery of the creative process. 

­The entire play takes place in a nondescript conference room, in which a bunch of writers fawn over an aging director. His methods are… unconventional, asking each writer to share intimate details of their private lives – first sexual experience, biggest regret – and basking in the aftermath of this awkward intimacy.

And that’s kind of it. The atmosphere in the room, where the passing of days and weeks are charted only by the perky receptionist’s costume changes, becomes increasingly desperate. All these fragments of stories don’t seem to lead anywhere. There are surreal tangents – a foray into the occult, for instance – and tangents so utterly prosaic they take on a surreal quality, but nothing that sticks, and certainly nothing that resembles a traditional narrative arc.

Baker’s play occasionally threatens to make a definite point, almost addressing the #metoo movement or the general mistreatment of writers. But these turn out to be more waves lapping at an endless shore, breaking and receding again, merging with all the other molecules of partially told stories.

Like her previous, Pulitzer-prize winning play The Flick, Baker revels in the power of monotony and rejoices in uncomfortable silence. There are times when The Antipodes feels like a reading rather than a full production, as well as times that border on the sublime. Perhaps that’s the point – creativity is messy and difficult, full of frustrating dead ends. It’s hard work, rather like this play.