Written by David Eldridge
Directed by Bryony Shanahan
ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE
The first in a trilogy, David Eldridge wrote BEGINNING in 2015 and had a hugely successful run when it made its debut at the National Theatre in 2017. The play runs in real time over the course of an evening after a house warming party ends. Laura has a smart new flat in West Didsbury and the last guest left is Danny who is a newcomer to her social circle. Eldridge takes this boy meets girl drama and manages to subvert what one might expect by exploring the immediacy and intimacy of two vulnerable people navigating possibilities. The sheer simplicity of Laura articulating what she wants without any artifice creates a beautifully multi-layered drama as the play explores the complexity of what happens when two people caught in a moment reveal their back stories and how they impact on their choices.
The set design by Ty Hay is an estate agents’ dream with a sleek kitchen island complete with Smeg oven, dishwasher and wine chiller while the lounge furniture looks like an ad for LOAF. Surfaces are littered with the debris from the recent party and the designer rug has a fresh cigarette burn. Either side of the set loom street lamps and the stage gleams with smooth fresh tarmac. The overall effect is as subtle as the storytelling, allowing for lots of movement by the two actors as they at times literally dance around each other. The tarmac effect sleekly eludes to fresh starts and gleaming possibilities while the glowing street lamps suggest a voyeuristic feel to this production. Watching the actors for nearly two hours as they learn about each other feels very much as if we the audience are peering in on our neighbours in a gripping Will they/Won’t they scenario.
Laura is a 38 year old company MD with a new flat in West Didsbury while 42 year old divorced Danny is back living at his Mums’ house. Erin Shanagher and Gerard Kearns are perfectly cast as these wounded characters who are navigating points in their lives that they had not foreseen. Shanagher is wonderful as she makes quicksilver shifts from feisty to goofy to weary and anguished. Her Laura is endearing and brave in her vulnerability as she navigates the evening and propositions the uncertain and wary Danny with the possibility of sex, breakfast and a baby. Kearns gives a perfectly pitched performance in his laddish ordinariness and stained shirt and his Danny is a revelation as he opens up about himself. This is a man mourning being a dad who gets to be nothing more in his daughters’ life than a monthly direct debit and seems to have lost hope for his future. There is a single moment where Laura is dancing her heart out to a Bros track and Danny is watching and clearly amused…what tracks across Kearns’ facial expression is a dawning realisation that he could really fall in love with this woman…theatre at its best!
Beautifully crafted writing by Eldridge and mature and caring direction by Bryony Shanahan coupled with strong performances by Shanahan and Kearns make for a winning production. It’s a brave move to hope an audience can be absorbed in watching 2 people cook and eat fish finger Butties in real time, debate Strictly and the merits of a Ginsters and dance around a kitchen. Beginning draws the audience into routing for this burgeoning relationship despite there being more missteps than slick moves in this courtship dance. Utterly absorbing in its sharply observed take on loneliness and longing, this play is funny, poignant and exciting as the couple navigate the stepping stones and roadblocks peppering their first night together.