Manuel Harlan

The Antipodes

Reviewer's Rating

The Antipodes is a play by Annie Baker about creation myths. A creative team of eight sit around a glass conference table; they are tasked with crafting the perfect story for a mysterious benefactor. The story is perhaps meant to be ripe for some grander marketing campaign, but the corporate nature of their end goal is never confirmed.

The name of Baker’s play derives from the Greek word ‘antipodes’ which literally means ‘opposite feet’, such as those who happen to stand in an inverse location on a globe. In ancient philosophy these antipodean people, who inhabited the other side of the world, were thought to be surreal and hideous creatures living beyond a fiery equatorial region. Baker’s play is all about what happens when modern minds traverse into these strange plains and what mythology tells us about ourselves.

Sandy (Conleth Hill) heads up the corporate project as an enigmatic leader whose often digresses from the task at hand with humorous anecdotes. Hill brings to light the negative, stereotypically American traits of this character; he’s a blue-sky thinker who has a thinly disguised obsession with results, hierarchy and money. Charming and hollow, Sandy draws the others into the emotional labyrinth of this project; the team members, bunkered down in this hellish boardroom, are made to exchange personal and indelicate stories ad nauseam – this is done in the hopes it will ignite the creative flame.

But in contrast to the hoped-for flame, the set of The Antipodes communicates coldness in all aspects. The team all wait for something to spark inspiration, so that they have something to feed back to the disembodied voice of their benefactor Max (Andrew Woodall), but they end up frustrated with nothing concrete to show for their efforts. There are no Muses of art here; instead we find clinical steel-and-glass surfaces, a lack of natural light and a never-ending stockpile of Perrier bottles. It’s all part of a modern nightmare: Josh (Hadley Fraser) even suffers his own Kafkaesque torment as he struggles to get on the payroll – filling out endless forms and waiting in lines as part of his own personal bureaucratic trial.

With several men desperately vying for the spotlight, like the conceited Dave (Arthur Darvill) or the boisterous Danny (Matt Bardock), the two women of this play put in good, contrasting performances. The eager PA Sarah (Imogen Doel), who wears a bubbly personality to match her flowery jumpsuits, becomes a mouthpiece for a surprisingly macabre monologue – it’s a version of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale involving possessed dolls, flaming skulls and demonic villains. On the other hand, the fey and weird Eleanor (Sinéad Matthews) tells the most endearing stories out of the lot and creates her own microcosm, the last bastion of colour in the room, full of eclectic and treasured knick-knacks from home.

On the team’s quest to bottle lightning, Adam (Fisayo Akinade) comes the closest with his compellingly visual monologue. The product of a time-wearied brain, this story is as fantastical as a Bosch painting and as energetic as an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; it’s a mad hybrid of many creation myths and an impressively long speech for Akinade to deliver, which goes largely unrecorded by the room’s appointed transcriber, the superstitious Brian (Bill Milner).

Adam’s monologue comes near the end of The Antipodes but does not close the play; the conversation lapses back into mundanity as these thinkers, like magpies, sift through the material of their lives for a bigger jewel than Adam’s. The Antipodes is a confusing and apocalyptic piece of theatre where players gradually fall victim to a corporate goosestep; each story they come up with, involving a more exasperating effort than the last, is part of a never-ending narrative production line; another jewel in the heap.