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Beginners review at Unicorn Theatre, London – ‘amusingly offbeat’

Archie MacGregor and Emilija Trajkovic in Beginners at Unicorn-Theatre, London

Tim Crouch’s new play for children and adults is set on the classic British summer holiday. The weather’s damp and awful and traffic jams clog the roads as three families return to their regular West Country haunt.

Four children pass the time confined to a bedroom, bored and bickering, in a story that is as much about friendship as families. Their quest for entertainment eventually leads them to stage a play for their largely unseen parents.

The concept of change – including a strong fear of it – is a constant theme. It’s there in the destabilising effect of a parent’s new romantic relationship, and the way in in which the adult and child cast members fluidly switch places.

There are intermittent flashes of brilliance, including a karaoke performance of Radiohead by Rob Das as Bart/Adrian and his younger self (performed alternately by Rowan Davies-Moore and Archie MacGregor).

Amalia Vitale gives a wonderfully surrealistic performance as the dog Sandy, particularly when delivering Beckettian monologues of the canine’s inner thoughts – a characteristically Crouch moment of humour.

The psychotropic landscape (designed by Chloe Lamford and Camilla Clark) that descends during the performance of the children’s play similarly encapsulates this off-kilter combination of real and imaginary.

It’s stymied though by being almost too good at recreating the stasis and boredom that permeates childhood holidays. It also seems more like a play written for adults to understand the children they once were, than for kids to understand the adults they’ll become.

Unicorn’s Purni Morell: ‘Theatre is an industry – unless we get rid of that, we’ll have no art’

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Verdict
Tim Crouch’s reflective and amusingly offbeat play for a family audience
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