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Beginners by Tim Crouch at the Unicorn Theatre | Review

Amalia Vitale as Sandy in Beginners at Unicorn Theatre. Photo credit as Hugo GlendinningThere is a moment in Tim Crouch’s newly conceived Beginners, where you suddenly grasp the full extent of the machinations at play. The point at which this realisation occurs will depend on your preparation (a parsing of the program, say) or your attuning to the surroundings.

Needless to say, my seminal epiphany was in all likelihood a little later than most, but when it came it was no less rewarding. The two key parameters are that firstly, the offbeat and mute girl, Sandy (the excellently expressive Amalia Vitale) is, in fact, a dog. Secondly, the four adults on stage, who are speaking with mechanic automation and equal outlandishness, are in fact the four kids that the show is set around.

The unfurling story is subsequently one of startling poignancy, as each formerly convoluted backstory transposes into the simultaneously muddled and astute musings that make up a child’s insight. The four tykes are cooped up in a holiday home in Cornwall on their annual holiday, constrained to remain indoors by the eternal downpour that encapsulates an English summer. As we learn, the dynamics within the group have drastically changed since the last holiday. It was last year when Joy’s mum, Maddie (both played by Jacqui Dubois at one point or another) was discovered to be ill, an illness which has degenerated in the proceeding year and been diagnosed as cancer.

Additionally, Nigel’s dad Steve (again, both by the hilarious Nigel D’Souza) has left his wife for another woman, the mother of newcomer Bart (Rob Das). This process has split Nigel up from his Sister, who was Lucy’s (Pandora Colin) erstwhile partner in crime. This all comes together to form an uneasy environment, to say the least, between the quartet – no doubt mirroring the discomfort that could be found upstairs. As the play evolves, these situations are dealt with in a manner only kids can truly conceive of, but ultimately with a level of sincerity and humanity that is touchingly uncorrupted. For their part, the actors channel these constantly contrasting
elements of drastic misunderstanding and clarity with considerable dexterity.

Their chosen form of catharsis and resolution is, of course, the duration of a play of their own, contrived to cheer up their, as they point out, oxymoronically – despairing friend Joy. Without giving too much away, the action descends into an unexpectedly stunning world of beauty and wonder. Created by Set Designer Chloe Lamford, and accompanied by a Nick Powell score that is reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat’s in ‘The Shape of Water’, it conveys a world of untethered imagination.

As one by one the hitherto prevailing adults are replaced by their youthful counterparts, who are all full of impressive endeavour (with Ethan Dattani’s a Nigel a particular delight), the message becomes clear. There are equally stark deficiencies in our understandings of the world in both these phases of life.

While my initial ineptitude may have seemed an odd place to start, it is in many ways a convenient allegory for what Crouch was seeking to achieve with ‘Beginners’. The play’s raison d’être is to highlight the (it turns out) extensive similarities between our adolescent selves and our grown-up ones, as well as the inherent sacrifices we make along the way that irreversibly distinguish us.

4 stars

Review by Wilf Dutton

LET’S DISCUSS THIS LIKE ADULTS.
Three families trapped in a waterlogged holiday cottage in Cornwall over summer. The children are bored. The adults are down the pub. It’s like this every year.

Tim Crouch directs his new play Beginners, a work that inspires us to examine our relationship to growing up, living and grieving in this exquisite and joyful portrait of being a child in a complicated world.

Seen through the lens of a family holiday, Beginners is a dazzlingly original work, where childhood and adulthood collide in a funny and vivid exploration of the redemptive power of art in the face of loss.

The full cast includes Pandora Colin (Lucy), Rob Das (Bart), Jacqui Dubois (Joy), Neil D’Souza (Nigel) and Amalia Vitale (Sandy). There are also 8 children (2 teams of 4 on rota) cast in the show. They are Atinuke Akinrinade, Ethan Dattani, Nekisha Eric, Rowan Davies-Moore, Archie MacGregor, Ella Scott, Emilija Trajkovic, and Milan Verma.

A Unicorn Production
BEGINNERS
Written and directed by Tim Crouch
Designed by Chloe Lamford and Camilla Clarke
Music by Nick Powell
Lighting design by Zoe Spurr
Age guide: 9 – adult / Duration: approx 1 hr 30 mins

Listing Information
Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street London SE1 2HZ
Tuesday 20 March – Sunday 15 April 2018
www.unicorntheatre.com

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