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Middle: a new play by David Eldridge | National Theatre

It’s the middle of the night, in the middle of a marriage for a couple fast approaching middle age, and Maggie (Claire Rushbrook) is about to drop an emotional bombshell on Gary (Daniel Ryan).

Claire Rushbrook (Maggie) and Daniel Ryan (Gary) in Middle at the National Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson.
Claire Rushbrook (Maggie) and Daniel Ryan (Gary) in Middle at the National Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson.

This is an expertly crafted exploration of the familiarity and drudgery of marriage and parenthood, and although Maggie’s truths may be hard for Gary to hear, they’re not delivered angrily or viciously. This is a woman who wishes she felt differently, has tried for years to feel settled, but is aching for something more – the life she wanted but never found.

More than anything Maggie wants to talk. At first, Gary deflects, distracts and dodges any attempts at a deeper conversation, but as the night moves through to morning, he has his own secrets and silent desperation to share.

Rushbrook and Ryan play their characters so tenderly and with gentle nuance, Gary is absolutely recognisable as the football-loving, hardworking, bad joking family man that we all know. He gets his head down and gets on with the business of providing for his family and taking pleasure in the tiniest of moments amongst the daily grind.

Maggie wants more, she’s craving a deeper connection or adventure or romance and passion – it’s hard to know. Gary asks her repeatedly what she wants – he wants to give her what she wants, but there’s so little chemistry left between them you’d need more than a quick shop at Ann Summers to reignite the fire.

That they did love each other is clear, that they once had ‘sexy sex’ is evident, that they have a shared sense of humour and a shed load of shared history is all brilliantly realised, but their marriage has been a bit of an endurance test and you have to question when they were last truly happy or if staying together is their best option.

There are moments of dialogue when you wonder if this couple have ever really talked, times when they share back story information that they must surely know, and that’s a shame because aside from those few moments this is a masterclass in the sometimes mundanity of marriage and the navigation of the difficult conversations that most couples avoid.

The play is much funnier than it deserves to be, given the subject matter, and at times it is heart-stoppingly sad and it asks important questions, about why people stay together, why they ‘see things through’, and the compromises and sacrifices we make for the people we love, and the resentments that can cause.

4 stars

Review by Roz Wyllie

Every relationship reaches a crossroad some time.
As dawn breaks, Maggie is heating some milk and Gary wonders what she’s doing out of bed.
Maybe it’s time for an honest conversation – but how much honesty can this marriage take?

CAST
US Maggie – Gabrielle Jourdan
US Gary – Mark Middleton
Maggie – Claire Rushbrook
Gary – Daniel Ryan

Production Team
Writer – David Eldridge
Director – Polly Findlay
Set and Costume Designer – Fly Davis
Lighting Designer – Rick Fisher
Sound Designer – Donato Wharton
Movement Director – Anna Morrissey
Fight Director – Bret Yount
Voice and Dialect – Nia Lynn

Middle
a new play by David Eldridge
From 27 April
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval
https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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