DramaLondonReviewWest End

Beginning – Ambassadors Theatre, London

Writer: David Eldridge

Director: Polly Findlay

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

It is gone 3am, and Danny is the sole remaining party guest at Laura’s housewarming. They have been making eyes at each other all night, but now is the moment of truth – should he stay, or go?

So begins the National Theatre transfer of David Eldridge’s awkwardly believable romantic comedy, in which the ticking of the thirtysomethings’ biological clocks grows louder as the play progresses. Danny is divorced, has a 7-year-old daughter he never sees, lives with his mum and is friends with his nan on Facebook. Laura is the managing director of her own agency, can afford a flat in Crouch End, and wants children.

There is a delicate dance to be had between this pair, and director Polly Findlay has actors Sam Troughton and Justine Mitchell flit between dancing on tiptoe and wading in with hobnail boots. The winces of recognition in the audience as a flirtatious comment receives a completely inappropriate and unintentionally passion-reducing rebuke become a recurring accompaniment.

Eldridge’s dialogue finds delight in the banal, humour in every awkward pause. But it also is careful to gradually reveal the two characters’ inner demons, to each other and to the audience. This is a play in which loneliness looms large, both characters feeling solitary when surrounded by people.

Troughton’s Danny, his flat Essex vowels and soft rhotacism, start out as the most endearing of the two, even as he attempts to tidy up as a form of avoiding the confrontation that must surely occur with the lustful Laura. In contrast, Mitchell starts out by ensuring we see Laura as Danny does – her obvious, emphatic flirtation is unsettling. But as the evening progresses, both actors bring in other elements to their characters that underline Eldridge’s themes and ensure that this duo are rather better drawn than their initial sketch.

All this plays out, over an interval-free hour and 40 minutes, on a believable set by Fly Davis, which sets the party aftermath in a high-ceilinged Victorian conversion that will look smart once its new owner has decided on a paint colour.

Despite being a new play, Eldridge’s work already feels like a period piece – set in late 2015, Laura looks forward to “this time next year” when America will have elected its first woman president in a manner which suggests Laura’s plans for the future, even as Danny starts to buy into them, may not have the happy ending she wants. And discussions about how people use Facebook, posting on each other’s walls and all, was already out of date by the time Eldridge sets his action.

But the action of removing Danny and Laura from the pressures of feeling contemporary also liberates them. It should allow Belonging to remain a compelling, relevant view of social and romantic awkwardness even as it slips slowly into the realm of period drama.

Runs until March 24 2018 | Image: Johan Persson

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Awkwardly believable

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