Review: Middle, National Theatre

Often painfully funny writing collides with the traumatic prospect of a marital split in David Eldridge’s Middle at the National Theatre

“I don’t think they have conscious uncoupling in Essex. Unconscious coupling yes…”

First there was a Beginning, and now there is a Middle. We’re 12 or so years into a well-heeled marriage and the thrill of tipsy late-night fish finger sandwiches has given way to insomnia-driven mugs of hot milk at 4 in the morning. And pretty soon we’re well aware that Maggie is gearing up for a tricky, potentially life-altering conversation with husband Gary.

Middle isn’t a formal sequel to Beginning, but rather the second instalment in a loosely conceived trilogy from David Eldridge about the life cycle of relationships. And played out over 100 uninterrupted minutes, he probes into the dissatisfaction of middle age and the marital discord it can provoke, with an unsparing dissection of how disappointments eat us from the inside.

So far, so heavy, but Middle is often painfully funny too. Eldridge writes here with a wonderful ear for the details of everyday life and so whilst Claire Rushbrook’s Maggie tries to talk about the bombshell she has just dropped on their marriage, Daniel Ryan’s Gary busies himself with small talk about fennel seeds, hospital grade silicon and Stephen Gerrard’s autobiography.

But once the pair get into it, they really do, lifting the lid on years of bottled up resentments. Her loneliness at home, his dissatisfaction at work, their sexual frustration, their disagreements on how best to raise their daughter, digging right down to their hopes and aspirations which leads to some of the most acute writing as they tackle the class divide between their families.

Played out with measured naturalism from director Polly Findlay in the show-home sterility of Fly Davis’ set, Middle finds a note of affecting tragicomedy. Those looking for pulse-quickening drama should probably look elsewhere, this is a stark examination of how we often take those nearest to us for granted, told through the meandering, unfocused haze of the early hours.  

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Middle is booking at the National Theatre until 18th June

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