Review: Life For Beginners

Theatre503 kick start their autumn season with Life For Beginners, a commission that brings five of artistic directors Tim Roseman and Paul Robinson’s select writers together as a celebration of Roseman and Robinson’s joint artistic leadership. After six years, their partnership comes to an end as Roseman goes off to pursue freelancing projects.

Life For Beginners consists of five separate storylines, though insists on being one whole piece written by Alice Birch, Matt Hartley, Rex Obano, Lizzie Nunnery and Ben Ellis. Feeling more like a TV programme than theatre, I overheard this piece had just short of 40 scenes. We follow five stories which consist of five different circumstances of love, ranging from cute and quirky to adulterous and scientifically kinky.

If you enter the Latchmere Pub not quite on the ball, you certainly will be after 30 seconds with Alice Birch’s quick and alternative dialogue played brilliant by the ever cute Katie McGuinness and the plainly hilarious Alex Beckett. Never taking itself or themselves too seriously, McGuinness and Beckett’s craft of speaking satirical dialogue was just a delight; I forever found myself waiting for the next awkward comment or unbeknown sincere abuse.

Evening Standard starlet, Zara Tempest-Walters, and Edward Hancock made an adorable pairing as the adolescent zookeepers. Matt Hartley gifting Hancock as he won hearts with every animalistic Latin utterance he spoke and breaking them as he unveiled an abused life outside of this cutesy coming of age.

Kate Sissons plays typical TOWIE bird, Hayley, with great patience; Sissons is in no rush to wash a layer of bimbo on this six-inch heeled, starry-eyed, Katie Price admirer. Hayley is the star in Mark’s eye, played by Peter Bramhill, who tries to convince Hayley that her precious Jamie isn’t the one for her despite her going on The Nick McRae Show (Jeremy Kyle Show…?) to confirm her set ways. Rex Obano ticks the strongest language box but it’s his irony that brings the best out of Sissons and Bramhill.

Ben Ellis melts hearts with his old fashioned romance played dutifully by Mark Wingett and Jacqueline King, who play 60 somethings Tony and Sophie who are not quite ready to hang up their love lives and find each other via the internet. Meanwhile, Caroline Faber and Peter Bramhill execute Lizzie Nunnery’s scientifically seductive lyrics with a fiery zest. A special mention should go to Peter Bramhill who, until the curtain call, had me fooled that he was playing two characters; indeed, I thought both of Bramhill’s characters were being played by two actors.

Although this is a bit of a curtain call for the outgoing Tim Roseman, this is very much a team effort, and all the team have created a truly brave experimental piece of theatre. I’m not sure I’m a massive advocate of the multi-fabled structure; the one constant was the theme of love in all stories but there was not a lot else – apart from the badgering of butterflies – making this concept at times difficult to follow. However, such bravery should be credited with an audiences’ patience and wanting to get involved.

Your heart will open in this pentathlon of new British writing – stay with it and it’ll get you thinking.

Life For Beginners is playing at Theatre503 until 29 September. For more information and tickets please see the Theatre503 website, www.theatre503.com.

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