The Antipodes

‘The Antipodes’ is a derisive dig at an adult, contemporary storytelling by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Annie Baker. Born 40 years ago in Amherst, Massachusetts, she is best known for her plotless or ‘untheatrical theatre’, especially as depicted in the static-styled Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Flick (2013). Baker followed this with The Antipodes in 2017.

This may sound a frustrating delivery genre but the cracking pace and the rich characterisation surprisingly sucks you into the sentiments being aired.

This very unusual, 110-minute play (NO interval) is being presented by the Hayman Theatre Company, in the Hayman Theatre Complex building 301. The season runs nightly until Saturday 17th September, with curtain up at 7.00 pm.

Enter the campus off Manning Road, turn right at first roundabout and drive for about 500 metres, then park in car park to the east of the campus near Hayman Road bus station.

Scene:                   2017. An up-market writers’ boardroom

Production Manager and Set Designer:   Another amazing set from Stephen Carr. The teak-stained, 1-metre square wooden panels are mounted on a black base, giving a luxurious board room effect. The flooring is genuine wooden strips. In the corner of the room is a tea / coffee help yourself table. The walls have modern oil paintings. A teak door is on the left of the stage. A settee is against the opposite wall, with a nearby wastepaper basket that became the centre of attraction for some colleagues. Centre stage is a beautiful 4-metre-long boardroom table surrounded by top of the range leather covered resplendent chairs.

Congratulations also go to the Set Assistant, Setare Moqarabin, and the set construction team.                   

Properties:          Thomas Cartwright, Jarrad Whitehurst and Monique Rodwell might have seemed to have an unchallenging ride, but the unusual furniture, ever changing catering – including takeaway meals – crockery, glassware, plus the typical room décor made the task massive.

Sound Designer:                               Isla Simeoni has created a unique soundscape, employing a roaring noise as the scenes leap forward a few days – or weeks. Great effect with perfect timing.

Lighting Designer:            Ella Wakeman has captured the complex design required to give stress in the room – flickering fluorescent tubes, a Zoom meeting, and all the changes of emotional moods. Ella had the last ‘word’ right up the very last second of the play when an emerald spotlight picked out a beloved character. Superb work.

Stage Manager:                 Behind the set Poppy Lindsell and her Deputy Stage Manager,     Simonne Matthews, must have been tearing their hair out. The intricate prop and costume changes were every ten minutes.

An unknown organisation have their man in the area, Sandy (Adam Gannon, understudy Alex Hutchings) seek out eight people who are writers on, or who have experienced, strange happenings. The eight colleagues were unknown to each other before meeting in the room. From their clothing, they seem to come from a cross section of the community.

The boss’s secretary, Sarah (Jade Chilcott) dressed in a variety of stunning dresses asks what the workers would like for lunch. The Icelandic girl, Eleanor (Georgia Condon) requests vegan food, the rest like international cuisine. When, after the food break, Sandy asks for inappropriate storytelling, vague Adam (Oliver Charlton) and the sexually charged Dave (Leo Rimmer) are happy to recount, whilst Brian (Tom Tasovac) types everything into his laptop. A couple of innocents, Danny M1 (Adam Naylor) and Danny M2 (Jude Soussan) are included in the mix. The more serious and dedicated member, Josh (Tom Ford) tries to keep the rebels in hand, whilst Max (Morgan Scarfe) was just Max!

Instead of finding the required qualities, the people around the table deride or demean some of the tales.

Costume Designer Kate Naunton-Morgan, and her assistant Hannah Mellgren, had to clothe each actor with an attire that immediately conveyed to the audience their character, life story and hang-ups.

Directed by Leah Mercer and her Assistant Director Jade Woodhouse were both on a steep learning curve. Leah is extremely experienced and well respected, but I know this play will have stretched her talents to the full. In forty years of reviewing, I have never seen a play like this. It starts like the jury room scene in ‘Twelve Angry Men’ and for the first five minutes there is similar logical discussion with mild opinions and then …!

What a cast, they worked as a tight team flawlessly moving from one extreme to another. Two of the cast had to quote a huge list of items, which amazingly they did without a flicker. Superb cast.

So, was the play about mythical fables? A dig at modern day HR? The personal horrors we put to the back of our minds. Perhaps all of them. The decision is yours.

An exceptionally difficult play to direct, to hold the audience’s attention and curiosity, but they succeeded.