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Beginning review at National Theatre, London – ‘tender and resonant’

Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughtan in Beginning at the National Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughtan in Beginning at the National Theatre, London. Photo: Johan Persson

The party’s over. Laura and Danny are the only ones left. It’s late and they’re both a little drunk – and more than a little lonely.

David Eldridge’s new play, Beginning, is an astute and tender two-hander. Laura is attracted to Danny but she’s also pragmatic. She’s in her late 30s, successful in her job and able to afford a flat in Crouch End, but she also wants a family and is approaching the time where it might soon be too late.

Danny has a failed marriage behind him and is back living with his mum. Both have experienced loss. Both feel a deep lack in their lives. Both crave companionship.

Though they’re attracted to one another, at their age, and with their baggage, there are other things to consider. Eldridge captures the excruciating awkwardness of their negotiations: the poorly judged jokes, the different defensive mechanisms they employ and their many hesitations, as well as all the subtle recalibrations that occur throughout the evening as Danny starts to seriously consider the offer Laura is making him.

Polly Findlay’s production is finely balanced and benefits from two nuanced and moving performances from Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton. Findlay uses the distance between them with precision, positioning Mitchell and Troughton at opposite ends of Fly Davis’ detailed living room set, as they eye each other with a mixture of desire and wariness over the post-party debris.

Though often very funny, the play is strung with emotional tripwires – it’s full of lines that send you sprawling. Eldridge is a writer of compassion and in he circumvents cliche as he evokes the pressures people place on themselves and the way social media can contribute to these, the insidiousness of loneliness and the difficulty of admitting that you’re not happy – and that you need someone.

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Tender, funny and resonant two-hander of longing and loneliness