Two lonely, damaged people desperately seek common ground in David Eldridge’s intimate but ultimately disappointing new play, Beginning (NTs Dorfman Theatre), directed by Polly Findlay.
Laura is a 38-year-old managing director who, at the start of the piece, surveys the post-party detritus – a mess of empty bottles, cigarettes ends and decorations – after a house-warming at her new North London pad. Danny is a 42-year-old middle management guy who, having come at a friend’s invitation, is the last remaining guest. Although they are much the same age, in many ways they seem miles apart. She is a firm supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, capable and organised, and keen to have sex with any male. He is divorced, with a young daughter, and is called a bit of a toyboy by his nan and lives with his mum. As this odd couple try and fail and try again to hock up, cringey moments and painful truths emerge.
This 100-minute romcom (no interval) shows that even in the age of social media and internet dating, forging a connection with other people remains as problematic as ever. Yet, while it may be described as a tentative anti-romance for 21st century London life, in which truth-telling and soul-baring propel the drama, the writing is often unnecessarily crude and lacks substance. It is an awkward comedy, particularly liked the scene when Danny and Laura dance, she is twirling elegantly and narcissistically, he boogying like a best man on a stag weekend, in an effort to make contact.
Fly Davis’s design is full of celebratory clutter, beneath which is a smart Crouch End Flat.
A smiling Justine Mitchell captures Laura’s slightly inebriated state and also her assumed composure and the hunger that drives her actions, while Sam Troughton is all rugged wariness as Danny and suggests a man whose bullish exterior conceals a certain shyness and buried hurt. Both actors do their best to peel away the protective layers of their characters but are hampered by a script that does not leave them much room for manoeuvre.
In short then, a brutally honest but somewhat superficial view of the dating game.
Running at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre until 14 November 2017Last modified: April 6, 2021