Steadily paced, this engaging two-hander plays out in real-time. If a week is a long time in politics (and I’m not denying it is), a conversation into the small hours after a house party can – and potentially does – change the course of its participants permanently. The ending is left ambiguous with regards to what happens in the long-term while simultaneously not requiring much, if any, imagination to determine what goes on in the immediate aftermath of the end of the play. This isn’t quite one of those dialogues that puts the world to rights, but does highlight, quite pertinently, how people can be of any political persuasion or social background and yet still find more in common with each other than their stark differences might otherwise suggest.
It’s evident, however, that this isn’t going to be an easy ride for either party. Laura (Amanda Ryan) lives a decent life, and having achieved considerable success professionally, there’s something (she feels) to be said for going down the route of getting married, having children and living in substantially larger accommodation than she does currently. Danny (Simon Darwen) is less assured about almost everything, quite comically turning to tidying up Laura’s front room in a bid to deflect from asking what he really wants to ask. It’s ridiculous, and yet strangely identifiable: it’s not always easy to make the first move, and even when Laura suggests that perhaps Danny ought to go ahead and order the taxi home that he said he was going to, there’s something going on between them that takes a good while for either of them to acknowledge.
This living room conversation is surprisingly compulsive viewing, capturing a wide range of human emotions, from initial awkwardness to discovering further details about one another to making tentative moves towards something deeper (hence the show’s title). Both have a decent amount of baggage from the past but are willing to consider starting afresh. Beneath Laura’s confidence and assertiveness lies some vulnerability and acknowledgement that actually she could do with some companionship, even telling Danny, “Don’t get up and go tomorrow morning”. Danny, meanwhile, is one of those men who hasn’t had much experience in articulating his true feelings, and therefore struggles doing so. Stripped (in more ways than one), he eventually tells Laura: “You frighten me. The way you look at me. You unpeel me.”
But it is not as if Danny is devoid of sensitivity, even if Laura finds herself momentarily taken aback by some of what he says. By his own admission, he’s “poorly maintained in the area of the groin”, and the stakes are high for both characters in this insightful play. There’s a level of honesty that is refreshing and also somewhat painful to watch – the truth is glorious and freeing, and yet the truth can also hurt. Some good points are made, too, about the role of social media in people’s lives, and how a picture-perfect personality and lifestyle perception can be built online by some people whose offline friends know full well isn’t truly indicative of daily reality.
A spot of ‘dad dancing’ from Danny lightens the mood, as does Laura’s euphoric response to ‘I Owe You Nothing’ by Bros being played on her iPod. Danny is a great observer, to the point of noticing Laura’s oven is fan-assisted, and it is difficult not to find oneself rooting for this unlikely pair. “Stay safe” was an oft-repeated phrase in the early stages of the pandemic, but some things in life are worth the risk. The 100-minute running time flies past in this compelling and perceptive play, thanks to some first-rate acting and a delightful script.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Every story starts somewhere… It’s the early hours of the morning and Danny from Upminster is the last straggler at Laura’s party. The flat’s in a mess. And so are they. One more drink?
Beginning takes a touching look at the first fragile moments of risking your heart and taking a chance.
BEGINNING by David Eldridge
Directed by Joe Lichtenstein
From the Original Production by Polly Findlay
Design by Fly Davis
Lighting Design by Jack Knowles
Sound Design by Paul Arditti
Movement Direction by Naomi Said
Amanda Ryan as Laura
Simon Darwen as Danny
3 – 18 September 2021
A National Theatre production in association with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
Lee Dean and Theatre Royal Bath Productions present the National Theatre Production
in association with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
22 September – 2 October 2021
Theatre Royal Bath