Review: Beginning, National Theatre

“I feel like my life’s turning on the toss of a coin”

There’s something about the sweet spot as the embers of a house party start to die out – people lingering behind usually there for a reason (as in the prettiest boy I ever did kiss), conversations that delve right into the deep stuff. And so it is for Laura and Danny in David Eldridge’s new play Beginning – it’s 2.40am and he’s the last one left at the housewarming do at her new pad in Crouch End.

But it’s not quite as simple as that (it never is – that boy moved to LA). Both firmly middle-aged, the weight of Laura and Danny’s potential encounter is revealed to be ever more significant as they edge towards a truth that there might be more than just a quickie on the cards, that the spark of a connection they both might be feeling could be the beginning of something more and not just a reaction to the intense loneliness they’re both feeling in this modern world. They’ve just got to get to that point.

Eldridge’s writing is at its best in the earlier part of Polly Findlay’s emotionally bracing production. As inhabited by the marvellous pairing of Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton, the painstaking process of attempted drunken seduction is hilarious to watch, the various ways Mitchell’s Laura subtly (and not so subtly – such dancing!) tries to put the moves on Danny a real joy and proof positive, as if it were needed, that Bros should definitely be left in the 80s.

As the wine and beer continues to flow, the mood soon turns to one of emotional unburdening. Troughton is superb as the figure of fragile modern masculinity that is Danny, twisted up in self-doubt about his ability to be a ‘man’ but Eldridge doesn’t quite show the same commitment to fleshing out a complex portrayal of women. So Mitchell has the much tougher job of selling Laura’s over-riding desire to start a family and it is to her unending credit that she is entirely credible throughout, from predatory wine-sipping to literal soul-baring. The slow burn of this burgeoning relationship played out in real time proves hard to resist.

Granted, it is a picture of white, middle-class, heterosexual privilege but the performances of Mitchell and Troughton elevate it to something really quite touching. In the beautifully naturalistic detail of Fly Davis’ set (look out for the gorgeous tiling on the kitchen splashback) and under the warm glow of Jack Knowles’ lighting, these feel like real lives playing out. Funny and bittersweet, something beautiful really is beginning here.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 14th November

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