SET amid post-party debris in a flat somewhere in London’s Crouch End, David Eldridge’s new play Beginning charts the inept and tortuous efforts of a man and a woman to hook up with one another.
Both are around or heading for 40 and their faltering steps towards a relationship seem like familiar territory to an appreciative audience who — if they haven’t been there themselves — quite clearly know someone who has. And they find it hilarious.
Committed Corbynite Laura, played by the naturally elegant Justine Mitchell, and chipper Essex boy-with-Tory leanings Danny (Sam Troughton) find themselves alone in her flat as the last cab leaves.
They circle each other like distant planets — she clutching her umpteenth wine glass of the night, he a beer as if it were a natural limb extension.
When Laura, not unreasonably, asks Danny for a kiss, she might as well have ask for the moon. He seems not to hear and the laughs come thick and fast at his farcical avoidance of anything resembling physical contact.
He hasn’t taken his eyes off her all night but won’t kiss her and herein lies the nub of the play — both characters are fraught with hang-ups.
Their insecurities, past disappointments and general confusion about protocol conflict with their secret and almost unbearable dreams — hers to have a baby with a man who is constant and caring and his to find someone to assuage the pain of his divorce and the estrangement from his much-loved daughter. Both are laden with the baggage they carry.
Firmly set in the age of internet dating and the seemingly endless potential for casual sex, this humorous and compassionate tale throws up something much more disturbing about the world than the private ineptitude of one particular couple.
Relationships, it seems, demand a process so convoluted that success is hard won, resulting in the kind of widespread loneliness that destabilises individuals and undermines social relations.
Director Polly Findlay and designer Fly Davis bring a sharply contemporary style to proceedings and, though the drama hinges on the question of whether they will or won’t get it on, it’s also a penetrating exploration of the layers and complexities of human longings and needs.