Robert Tanitch reviews Beginning at National Theatre/Dorfman, London.
David Eldridge has written a neat and intimate two-hander about acute loneliness and the difficulty of finding a partner late in life.
The play is 100 minutes long and acted straight through without interval.
Tender and heartfelt, it’s funny and it’s not funny.
Only two people remain after a house party. She is 38. He is 42. They have only just met. They have had their eye on each other all evening.
They admit they fancy each other. But perhaps it might be better for the man to get a taxi and go home. It’s her flat. She gave the party and he was a guest of a guest
He is divorced. He has not seen his 7-year-old daughter since she was three. He lives with his mother and grandmother
She is single. Desperate for love, marriage and children, she makes all the advances.
She wants a long term relationship; but she is pragmatic.
He is constantly on the defensive, on the retreat, fearing rejection, frightened of being hurt again. He is worried about his sexual and intellectual prowess.
She makes him feel nervous, emasculated. Asked for a kiss, he immediately opens a big black bin-liner and starts cleaning up the mess left by the partygoers.
The acting is subtle. There are no histrionics. The actors get it absolutely right. The director is Polly Findlay.
Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton are especially good with the excruciating embarrassment, the awkwardness, the long silences, the clumsiness and the uncertainty.
There is always a space between them even when they sitting uncomfortably close together on the sofa. A cringe-making attempt to start dancing merely makes them both look foolish.
So will they have sex? Will it just be a one-night stand? Or will it be something more, the beginning of a relationship, perhaps? Or is it all going to be a big mistake and they are going to wake up in the morning and regretting it?
Beginning is going to be very popular with actors and audiences.