Reviewed by Matt Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If you told me before the performance of Beginning, that I’d be emotionally invested in two people dancing around a kitchen to I Owe You Nothing by Bros, then I’d have called you a liar. However, two hours later I’d owe you an apology, and then would have chewed your ear off demanding a ‘chat’ about what we’d just witnessed! Taken in isolation, this 10-minute sequence demonstrates all that is great about the David Eldridge penned production; playful, tender, at times desperate, an emotional rollercoaster, more than worth jumping onboard.
Beginning starts at the dying embers of a housewarming party in the leafy suburb of West Didsbury. All that’s left is Laura (Erin Shanagher), the party hostess, and Danny, (Gerard Kearns) a-friend-of-a friend of Laura’s, unsure why he’s still there. We soon learn that the pair have caught each other’s eye as the party has progressed and now it’s all about how the night will end.
Set in real time, we learn how these two very different characters share some striking similarities. Laura is a sexually confident, managing director, laser focused on a romantic encounter with her guest, whilst Danny is a confidence starved 42-year-old man, who lives with his mum, sceptical about why Laura is so keen for them to spend the night together.
As the night progresses, the pair peel away layers of their character to see if this potential union could work: a mutual love of scotch eggs being a plus point, their choice of football teams a potential roadblock, Laura’s chosen team, being one of the more shocking and funnier revelations for the Manchester audience. However, it’s their past heartbreaks that are shaping their present anxieties, holding them both back and keeping them very much alone.
Bryony Shanahan’s direction is flawless throughout. This is very much an extended version of a mating ritual you’d see on one of David Attenbrough’s Sunday night wildlife documentaries, as the would-be-lovers circle each other using the glorious in-the-round setting of the Royal Exchange. There are even hints of those extended dance sequences you get in many period dramas. The play is allowed to breathe, throughout there are long moments where more is said in a silence than could ever be by any dialogue. It gives it a more real life, naturalistic quality.
The two leads are fantastic, with both Kearns and Shanagher giving layered, nuanced performances – both drifting seamlessly from comedic to heartbreak within the blink of an eye. The aforementioned Bros sequence will have you grinning from ear-to-ear as a result of Shanager’s fantastic dance routine, and equally devastated by Kearn’s reaction. The chemistry between the pair is off the chart – the production lives or dies on whether you believe in the pair of them, and you absolutely do.
David Eldridge’s script is bang on point, warm, funny and poignant. It has a great deal to say about the human condition, and our desire for meaningful human connection, something we all can empathise with post-pandemic. It takes a seemingly mundane everyday occurrence, and makes it the most important thing in the world for its near 2 hour running time. The fact that you’re never really sure how you want it to end, or indeed how it will end, is a major strength.
This is a production that sees everyone at the top of their game, a witty, thought provoking, relatable and unashamedly honest script, anchored by two strong, enjoyable central performances who bring to life characters you actually care about. This is surely what good storytelling is all about.
Beginning is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre till 11th March tickets available here.