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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Beginning
National Theatre Autumn 2017; Ambassadors' Theatre January-March 2018

David Eldridge's new play has been greeted by some as an insightful analysis of twenty-first century urban loneliness. It isn't. 

It is a better-than-average romantic comedy with some unexpected emotional depth, a nice mix of believable psychology and rom-com conventions we like to believe. 

At the end of a party only the hostess and one lingering guest remain. She makes it explicitly clear that she will welcome his spending the night, but he is oddly hesitant, not so much turning her down as avoiding the question.

The bulk of the 100-minute play is devoted to her trying one invitation or seduction after another and his finding ways to elude her. It is frequently funny and occasionally sad, as the causes of both her desperation and his hesitance are revealed. 

It is essentially a one-joke show – will he or won't he? - and it is much to the credit of playwright Eldridge, director Polly Findlay and the two actors that they manage to sustain it so long. 

Still, when we do get deeper into each character we don't discover very much that's original or special, and there are bound to be occasional moments when you are tempted to shout at him “Oh, go to bed with her already and work out your personal issues some other time” and at her “Give up on this loser and find someone else at the next party.” 

When – spoiler alert! - they finally do get together, it feels more like settling than the made-for-each-other inevitability that romantic comedy wants. 

Justine Mitchell has the more showy role, since her character has to keep finding new ways to entice him into bed – actually, it's just to get a kiss from him – without becoming too pathetic. 

Mitchell captures the woman's quick intelligence as she repeatedly responds to his non-response and jumps from one stratagem to the next. She also gives the woman an angular Geena Davis gawkiness that is endearing and unconventionally sexy. 

Sam Troughton is less successful in finding more than generic shy-guy in his character, and the reasons we are eventually given for his emotional holding-back never really ring true. 

It comes as a bit of a surprise when we learn, fairly late in the play, that he is meant to be just over forty and she just under, because both have been playing closer to mid-twenties throughout. 

Don't come to Beginning expecting more than an entertaining rom-com and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the little more that there is to it. Expect too much and you may be disappointed.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Beginning  - Ambassadors Theatre 2018

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