Theatre Review: Beginning, Ambassadors Theatre ‘A Wonderful Play, Magnificent’

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Oh my. My, my, my… Beginning is absolutely beautiful. This is a wonderful play, magnificent. So thank god this David Eldridge-penned tale of the first few hours of a new relationship found a transfer from the National Theatre as it would have been such a shame if many, like me, missed this perfectly pitched production simply because they didn’t catch it at the Dorfman last year.

It’s late on a Saturday night and Laura (Justine Mitchell) has been hosting a house-warming party at her new place in Crouch End. One of those parties where friends bring friends, and new faces appear out of the blue. Like Danny’s (Sam Troughton). The last cab has left, leaving Danny alone with Laura in her flat, which is what Laura had been hoping for.

The two had been making eyes at each other all evening and now, finally, the two are alone. But now, with no other guests or distractions to cover their glances, the two are exposed and considering how to make the next tentative few steps without making themselves look like idiots.

The show plays out in real time, charting the stumbling, nervous but exciting first 100 minutes of a new beginning. One that brings hope, the possibility of happiness – and the fear of more rejection.

There is such truth in this show for, unlike so many others that focus on relationships, this two-hander isn’t a play about a journey. It’s not even really about where this couple ends up (what is an ending anyway? Marriage? Divorce? Pregnancy? Not really endings; they’re just stages). Instead, this play is about loneliness. It is about the messiness of loneliness. It is about conflicted emotions – independence versus isolation; career goals versus our private selves; even our anxieties and hopes for the future.

Making the first move isn’t the risk-free, ‘oh, lets just give it a whirl’ stab that we often portray it as; it is, in fact, loaded with risk. Making ourselves vulnerable, the fear of having our hopes raised yet again, wanting to protect our fragile selves from yet more hurt. And it’s all this messiness that David Eldridge captures so beautifully in his writing.

Laura and Danny circle each other amongst the party debris in Laura’s front room, their attempts at keeping the mood light whilst they try to read each other scuppered by that deadly mix of alcohol and apprehension. Simple questions such as ‘What made you move to Crouch End?’ and ‘Why do you still live with your Mum?’ become unintentional shades; ‘babes’ and barbs about mutual friends become a bit too close to the bone. For every two steps forward, it seems Laura and Danny are also going two steps backwards.

But over these first couple of hours they spend together, what is revealed is more of their true selves than they ever thought it was possible to explain. Honest talk and humour, with a bit of Stella and fish finger sandwiches thrown in, makes for a wonderfully heart-warming and tender encounter.

As well as the writing, credit must also go to director Polly Findlay who gives so much space for these two fine actors to express the physical awkwardness and the anguishing silences that puncture their flirtations. There are some fine moments of physical comedy and the performances from both actors in this two-hander are blinding – Justine Mitchell’s air of superiority increasingly undermined as she feels compelled to get ever more direct, ever more honest, about what she needs, and Sam Troughton pulls on those heartstrings as the vulnerable Danny, so desperate to be more than what he feels he is.

Beginning is a gem. One of the best productions on in London, right now, and such an uplifting, life-reaffirming play that will lift even the gloomiest of evenings.

Ambassadors Theatre, London, to March 24, 2018
Tickets from £18
All production images by Manuel Harlan.

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