Two people are left standing on opposite sides of the room at the end of a housewarming party in Crouch End: the hostess and a guy who came as the friend of a friend, but on whom she’s had her eye for some time. The room’s a mess and beneath the surface so are their lives. Cleaning up the room will take little time but sorting out what’s going on between them will take the length of a real-team play, and that will be just the beginning.
A curiosity and a challenging experience.
The Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch has opened its autumn 2021 with this revival of the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Beginning by David Eldridge which will transfer to the Theatre Royal Bath towards the end of the month.
Danny (Simon Darwen) is from Upminster and although aged forty-two has been living with his mother since his divorce and keeps his feelings very much to himself. He hasn’t seen his daughter for some years. Laura (Amanda Ryan) is thirty-eight and devoid of a partner, children and a family. She is more open and at times blunt, making her needs very clear, but still manages for the most part to camouflage her deeper feelings. As she goes to work on the reluctant Danny more is revealed about each of them. There is nothing earth-shattering about their lives. Indeed, they are almost remarkable for their ordinariness. Their revelations are more of a study in the obstacles people put on the path to fulfilment and the frustrations and insecurities they suffer as a consequence.
Director Joe Lichtenstein has embraced the naturalism of this work to draw out the insecurities and vulnerabilities of two people trapped in the lives they have created. Working with Movement Director Naomi Said the pair have translated the emotional distance that exists between Laura and Danny into a finely staged set of sequences that uses physical separation along with the occasional coming together to reflect and enhance the dialogue. Sustained pauses heighten the tension between them; the ice being broken only by some clumsy humour and a prolonged dance.
Ryan exudes all the social confidence of an MD. Her voice is persistent and determined, yet also seductive. Darwen captures the nervous hesitancy and social ineptitude of man out of his depth being asked to talk about the emotional baggage he carries. He also provides most of the humour with some precisely timed lines that come out of nowhere.
The strained air is palpable and the awkwardness of the situation would be enough to make you leave the room, which makes Beginning something of a curiosity and a challenging experience. It’s melancholy but with an undercurrent of hope that these two might finally find what they are looking for.