Written and directed by renowned theatre-maker Tim Crouch, Beginners treads the threshold between childhood and adulthood from the stage of the Unicorn Theatre. Famed for his experimental approach to the theatrical experience, Crouch’s latest play observes three families trapped in a non-descript cottage during the summer months. Thunder rumbles overhead and rain saturates their holiday, leaving the children jaded and the adults marooned at the pub. As events unfold, maturity and immaturity collide within five characters, serving as a reminder of how the person we were in youth and the individual we will become with age, stay present within us, always.

Designed by Chloe Lamford and Camilla Clarke, four single beds gather in a ring, covered by matching duvets and a trio of pillows. The apricot carpet looks like that of a juvenile detention centre – a space where Crouch’s characters have been committed for a short-term basis. A table hovers in the back, coupled with flowers that linger in a vase next to a lighting board. The stage is vast, and reaches deep into the belly of the theatre, with a door held ajar at its deepest point and light spilling through the cracks. As the storm continues to disturb the world outside, the torrent is slowly carried within to challenge dramatic convention. Rule number one: there is more to this than meets the eye.

Pushing a pram, Lucy and Sandy trickle into view, closely followed by Bart, Joy and Nigel. A hint of absurdism lurks within the action – exchanges are delivered in an impassive manner, their deadpanning curiously childlike for adult conversation. The dialogue too is non-linear, often circling existential questions of Christianity and doubts surrounding the Wi-Fi password. Between scenes, the stage is plunged into darkness. This adds to the disjointed climate and persistent sense of foreboding; however, these are complimented by humour which is created from the presence of odd phenomena. Often, the heavens will open, miscellaneous items falling onto the matting with point-blank precision, and hidden meanings burst forth in an energetic rendition of ‘Creep’ by Radiohead.

Just as each layer becomes transparent, there is a transformative shift in style. Slowly, the grown-ups come to be haunted by versions of themselves as youngsters, and as time passes, these children grow to substitute the role of the adult altogether. The act of self-entertainment moves from representation to a monopoly, with a beautifully crafted clan of stalactites and stalagmites joining flowers of an impossible scale. Beginners is extremely intricate in its conceptual and narrative connection, a production that is able to constantly surprise and captivate audience members of all ages. It is a theatrical feat of the most magical kind, and a must-see for families everywhere.

Beginners is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until April 15 

Photo: Unicorn Theatre