A West End hit play, two excellent performances and some killer one-liners, what more could you want for a great night out? Well, frankly, an interval. At just short of two hours, not having an interval feels like cruel and unusual punishment. But more of that anon.
It’s the fag end of Laura’s flat-warming party and everyone’s gone except Danny, a friend of a friend and a stranger to Laura. Over the next two hours they explore the difficulties for singles in their late 30s of making meaningful relationships in the age of Tinder, loneliness, and children.
Beginning by David Eldridge is a difficult play to perform. For most of it nothing appears to happen. A character’s reaction to being told by their father’s ghost that he was murdered by his brother is a lot easier to act than ‘why am I still in this flat when everyone else has gone?’. Nobody is murdered, the characters’ motives are obscure, and the dialogue is mostly at a tangent to what the characters want. But things do happen, internally.
Gerard Kearns as Danny gives a wonderful performance of a man possessed by desire and completely unable to act on it. He spends the first hour managing to stay in the room while expressing his need to leave. Erin Gallagher as Laura is equally good at failing to express her needs, but when she does her expression of loneliness is heart-wrenching, her seduction of Danny a delight, and her instructions to him on how to make love to her an erotic primer for all the straight men in the audience.
There is an interesting moment about two thirds of the way in where things seem to have reached an impasse, and the dramatic resolution we are longing for – if only to go to the lavatory – seems as distant as ever. And then Eldridge contrives the equivalent of a commercial break. Students of ITV drama will know that, during the break, characters’ intentions and actions can change dramatically, so that when we return to the plot difficult issues are resolved. And so it is here, but I have to say I believed every word.
This is a great night out. On press night the room was full of well-known faces and lots of the cast’s mates, which must have been nerve-wracking, but they triumphed, and got a standing ovation. As for the lack of an interval, be warned. This kind of thing is becoming more common, despite the fact that it must reduce bar sales – indeed some touring theatres require an interval for that reason.
I can see why, when you’re doing something as complicated as this which is written as a one-act play, you worry about the actor’s – and the audience’s – concentration. I think they should give it a try. I’m an old geezer and had taken the precaution of a wee just before I went in, and I just made it. My companion, a woman in her 30s, was wriggling about with 10 minutes to go. And several people left the auditorium which is quite disruptive in the round. Any longer and we would have had to repurpose those plastic glasses they supply to drink in the auditorium.
One more thing. Laura’s new flat is in West Didsbury, which got a laugh. Lots of Manchester references got a laugh. And her flat is clearly lovely and modern. The action takes place in the living room cum kitchen, around an island unit with a working sink, and cooker. But no hob. Is that a thing now? Asking for a friend.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
Main image: Gerard Kearns and Erin Shanagher in Beginning, directed by Bryony Shanahan and designed by TK Hay. Photograph: Helen Murray.
Beginning is at the Royal Exchange until March 11, 2023. For more information, click here.