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Theatre Review Burdens of the baggage handlers

LEN PHELAN sees a couple laden down with past relationship disasters struggling to make a meaningful connection with each other

Beginning
Ambassadors Theatre, London

IT'S 2015. It's the Guardianista enclave that is north London's Crouch End. And it's the after-party party, with Laura (Justine Mitchell) in a killer party frock and Essex boy Danny (Sam Troughton) sporting a ketchup-stained shirt, circling each other alone among the detritus of booze, food and a new carpet that's had a fag stubbed out on it.

They've been eyeing each other up all night at her housewarming bash and, you might think, now's their chance to “get it on.” But no, that comes later, for what playwright David Eldridge's agenda is becomes increasingly clear over 90 minutes of verbal foreplay in which the particular personal baggage weighing them down is unburdened.

She, we learn, loves “Jeremy,” while he appears to have Tory inclinations but that potential seed of dramatic conflict is abandoned as rapidly as its revealed.

Both these late-30-somethings are damaged goods and, as the drink flows copiously, we learn why. Her biological clock is ticking and, after a lengthy failed relationship, she's looking for a caring partner to have a baby with, while he's a divorcee with a child he hasn't seen in years.

Eldridge's somewhat laboured, though valid, point in this National Theatre production directed by Polly Findlay, is that, in the age of social media sexual link-ups and pressured and demanding work environments, opportunities for finding that “special one” are increasingly rare.

There are plenty of laughs of recognition as these two desperate souls enact their inept mating ritual, culminating in their comically getting their kit off and engaging in a feverish clinch as the lights fade. The learning curve appears to have been negotiated and some kind of meaningful connection seems on the cards.

But despite the sterling efforts of both actors — and the play's worth seeing for their performances alone — I was ultimately left unmoved by a drama whose tell-all intimacies might better suit a radio play.

It was rather like watching a dramatised version of  the relationship advice in a “quality” newspaper and it challenges the suspension of disbelief to accept that both characters get more lucidly self-aware the more bibulous they become.

If you go and see it, avoid the knee-crunching seats in the circle. Audience-friendly they most certainly are not.            

Runs until March 24, box office: theambassadorstheatre.co.uk

 

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