The beginning of The Beginning does in fact begin before you realise it. Michael Pinchbeck sits in a chair in front of a desk with an array of neatly arranged and labelled objects, upstage and visible but outside the stage marked out. It is a while before any of the three actors move onto their stage. Pinchbeck places a series of pieces of paper underneath a small camera, which projects different messages onto a screen. It’s a neat and engaging little visual device that means that each section of this production is demarcated quite clearly, each action onstage has a simple visual referent on screen.
The Beginning is itself very clearly labelled. It’s about beginnings, the start of the creative process, the moment at which theatre starts to happen. As such, the whole piece is couched as if it is taking place prior to lights-down in a theatre; calls for the actors to take their places are played at the start and end. Before either of the other actors (Nicki Hobday and Ollie Smith) move onto their stage they dramatise the build-up, enumerating different variants by which an actor might begin a play, one with a script, one without.
The Beginning is ‘A love story to theatre’. Starting something, creating something is positive and exciting, the beginning of a relationship between performers. Source material from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the music of Serge Gainsbourg runs throughout as the company draws similarities and select indicative moments.
This is all intelligent and often visually stimulating, yet the production never quite gives itself space to be really satisfying. We’re naturally in a kind of limbo, watching a play that purports not to have begun but there’s only so much stalling and repetition that can be easily put up with. Each section seems to itself begin to go somewhere, before it’s halted by the company as they move onto their next idea.
It’s unashamedly self-indulgent, and by virtue of the concept feels more like watching a series of workshopped ideas than something more gratifyingly cohesive. There’s plenty to look at and enjoy in this lively and engaging production but little pay-off.