Beginning (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: October 17, 2017 in Theatre


This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

David Eldridge’s new play begins at the end – the end of a drunken flat warming party. Hostess Laura (Justine Mitchell) stands at the door, but the last lingering guest, Danny (Sam Troughton), there as a friend of an acquaintance, declines to exit through it. After the play has progressed over 100 minutes of real time, he is still in the flat.

When layers have been peeled away, both Laura and Danny are revealed to be damaged and lonely. She is recently out of a 10-year relationship and has undergone an abortion. He is a divorcee who is separated from his seven-year-old daughter. Both are 40-ish. The only things that they seem to have in common are likings for Strictly… and Scotch eggs. Fervent Corbynite Laura shows pride in her new Crouch End pad and boasts the job title of “MD”. Politically disinterested Danny has a boring job, lives with his Mum in Essex and is dogged by low self-esteem.

The play looks to be on track to developing into a predictable romantic comedy of opposites attracting, but the sharpness of Eldridge’s writing dodges all the obvious pitfalls. The challenge facing this couple is to establish an emotional connection before the physical one takes over. In amusing exchanges, they probe each other, attempting to reconcile differences and synchronise senses of humour, fearful they could be about to make a terrible mistake or face embarrassing rejection. Mitchell and Troughton both understand that, when their characters are revealing themselves slowly, what cannot be spoken is often as important as their dialogue and they turn in spot-on performances of great subtlety and depth.

Fly Davis’ design makes Laura’s flat appear shabby and cheaply-furnished, adorned with fairy lights and party tinsel, but, if the look of director Polly Findlay’s sensitive production is old-fashioned, it is contrasted by many distinctly modern touches in the play. It is the woman, sexually liberated Laura, who makes all the moves, leaving Danny to resist. At one point, he resorts to stuffing empty bottles and uneaten canapés into a bin bag in a nervous attempt to detract from his pursuer’s advances.

Eldridge also sees the irony of a face-to-face first meeting in the age of the internet. Danny, who has dabbled with dating sites, bemoans the fact that he did not meet Laura online, seemingly not knowing how to handle a real-life encounter. Both refer to friends, but only of the Facebook kind, implying that they are becoming strangers to real friendship. When the playwright explores the human need for companionship, his play is at its most poignant and, when he demonstrates the practical obstacles in the way of getting a meaningful relationship going, it is at its most hilarious.

Beginning is warm, funny and, above all, refreshingly honest. Eldridge leaves open the question as to whether Laura and Danny’s relationship will progress beyond stage one, but this production’s biggest strength is that it makes us care and grow to hope that it will.

Performance date: 16 October 2017

Photo: Johan Persson

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