It’s three in the morning and Danny is at the tail end of what looks like a pretty decent housewarming. He’s the last man standing, if you’re being kind; or the creep that won’t leave at the end of the night, if you’re not. It’s Laura’s living room –Crouch End, which is apparently the playwright’s neck of the woods according to one actor-y type I overheard in the foyer. Cue the essential geographical observations to make a London audience chuckle, “Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Highgate – the pesto triangle!” She (perhaps unexpectedly) wants him to stay, but Danny is oh so slow at picking up cues.
They stumble through all the hurdles of a first meeting, conversation ranging from Strictly Come Dancing to house prices to personal tragedy, with all the awkward pauses left in. Laura and Danny are two people who would never normally meet, Danny can’t bring himself to believe that she actually wants to get off with him, while Laura broaches the classic dating stumbling block: “You’re not a Tory are you? Because I’m totally with Jeremy”. However, for all her left-wing righteousness, Laura gently mocks Danny’s Essex accent and despite bringing up gender politics and picking Danny up on his overfamiliarity – “Don’t call me babe, I don’t know you” – she also heartbreakingly snaps at him to stop emasculating himself. Playwright David Eldridge delicately captures the hypocrisies and contradictions we are all guilty of.
Basically, it is a play in which two people agonise over whether or not to go to bed with each other, but in Eldridge’s hands, Beginning is a sketch of what all human relationships are, really: the process of slowly revealing your vulnerability to another person. Not far from the imagination, there is another version of this play that could be called ‘Loneliness’, which has all of the sadness but none of the jokes. But thankfully, we are not watching that play. Eldridge is one of those playwrights who can hold the audience on the verge of tears one second, and deftly make us exhale with a huge laugh the next.
Credit must also be paid to Polly Findley in one of her best pieces of work yet. Sam Troughton is stunning as well as unrecognisable as Danny; oafish and laddish but also so anxious he looks like he might be sick – he conveys a lot with just a look. Justine Mitchell matches step for step, and has glorious comedy chops, she sends the audience up with one wince.
Pinter for millennials is a step too far, especially as Danny and Laura are circling around 40 – which is exactly why they are both looking for something at the end of this party that’s more then a one night stand. But Eldridge (and Fly Davis’s excellent set) does revel in hyperrealism. Except for one thing – middle class people with flats as nice as Laura’s would not be okay with smoking indoors.
Following a run at the Dorfman Theatre, Beginning will transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre in 2018 for a ten-week run.
Photo: Johan Persson