Should we feel bad for occasionally preferring to exist in the space called cyber? Is it so awful to be able to communicate more coherently – more confidently through a screen than in ‘real life’, to the face of an actual real being? Technological advances have especially manipulated our desires and need for intimate contact with dating apps where it just feels easier to get the awkward intros out of the way, discover if you have anything in common and move on  – with or without that other person. Many of us must exist in a world where oversharing with strangers is expected and is a relief; we feel free from judgement, whilst at the same time this need to tell and be it all is overwhelming. It feels impossible to escape but do we want to? Are we lonely because of the Internet? Are we lonelier because of it?

Beginning contemplates such titbits. Two single, cis-heterosexual individuals in their late-thirties find themselves traversing the excruciatingly awkward nightmare that is flirting with a stranger and attempting to work out what the next move is. All in the same room and everything. WTF. David Eldridge’s script asks if it is so bad to want a ‘normal’ conventional life and whether a woman is allowed to be more upfront than a man about sex. Is she allowed to crave children – a family without betraying those who fought so hard for women to want and reach for more? The short answer is yes, yes of-bloody-course yes, but it doesn’t stop Laura (Justine Mitchell) from suffering inner turmoil over it. She has her own flat in Crouch End, is the MD of a company and has the confidence to tell a man she fancies to kiss her. Danny (Sam Troughton) is so nervous that for most of the play, he looks like he is about to vomit. He makes clumsy, inappropriate comments, sprays beer all over the carpet and all whilst wearing a lovely ketchup stain on his shirt. It could be easy to view their roles as reversing of archaic gender ‘norms’: she as successful and seemingly assured and he a mess, but it’s just not that simple. Beginning ponders this idea but it isn’t so singular as to merely restrict itself to it.

There’s much information to take in here and especially as the production itself is so simple. Fly Davis’s set is a typical open-plan London home, with lovely wallpaper and table in the ‘dining’ area. Director, Polly Findlay ensures the agonising, jumpy energy is heightened as both Laura and Danny mostly stay about a mile away from one another. The piece is generally not a relaxed one and the tension offered to the audience is felt immensely.

Mitchell’s swaying, smiling drunken Laura is spot on hilarious and she deliberately keeps an air of defensiveness for most of Beginning which doesn’t always make her very easy to empathise with. Troughton switches from shaking mess to relaxed with subtle ease and is completely convincing as a man who easily if inadvertently hides his true intentions and with gross difficulty, just cannot be himself.

I found myself unable to lock on to what Beginning wanted from its audience, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. There’s much to consider after watching this play: antiquated biological and social expectations on women, the destructiveness of masculine ideals, the cyber age and our disconnection (or not) from one another, as well as the stark realisation that many of us will just never own a property and will forever be reminded of it. Well, isn’t that a lovely thought. Beginning boasts some cracking writing, direction and outstanding performances, just try work out what the hell it all means on the train journey home.

Beginning is playing at the Ambassador’s theatre until March 24 2018

Photo: Manuel Harlan