After a slew of big, brash, and loud plays being staged at the Royal Exchange, Beginning’s will-they-won’t-they style of rom-com feels like a cosy night in. 

Credit: Helen Murray

David Eldridge’s Beginning is revived at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, after a run at the National Theatre in 2017. The play is a beautiful two-hander directed by Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan, who has also directed Bloody Elle and Nora: A Dolls House for The Exchange within the last year alone. 

Danny (Gerard Kearns) and Laura (Erin Shanagher) are the last two standing at the end of Laura’s housewarming party. Danny didn’t leave in the taxi with his mate, Laura’s glad because she’s been eyeing him up all night. She is gorgeous, successful, and far out of his league, but Danny is far too in his head to be what Laura needs. Danny has a lot of baggage, but Laura has secrets she can’t bring herself to share. Maybe after another bottle of wine. 

After the weight left by Let The Right One In, a genuine comedy from the Royal Exchange is lovely, and a reminder of what this theatre can do. There are some standout lines in the show such as: “My Nan’s not a racist, she’s in the Labour party” and “Didsbury, Chorlton and Altrincham. The pesto triangle”, working to remind us that this play was originally set and staged in London, and has been reworked to sit better in our Northern ears. Some of these changes are apparent, but they were seamlessly woven into the original script. I particularly enjoyed the section of Laura’s closing monologue where she describes her South Manchester commute – getting the tram from Didsbury to Deansgate-Castlefield – and the discussion of house prices in Manchester these days.

Beginning’s set, designed by Singaporean designer TK Hay, felt like it was cut straight out of a real Didsbury apartment and plonked down in the middle of the stage. The Royal Exchange is in the round, which I find always amplifies the intimacy of a play, but it really did wonders for Beginning. Less sensical, perhaps, was the choice to have lampposts on stage as part of Zoe Spurr’s modest and minimal lighting design. Perhaps the play’s relatively simple storyline bled into the decision to have a simple set and lighting, but it did all feel a bit lacklustre visually.  

Credit: Helen Murray

Perhaps the most striking part of Beginning is its use of time passing. It is all set over one evening, and where most other plays jump days, weeks, or longer between scenes, Beginning was one long scene lasting the show’s entire 1 hour 50 minutes run time. There were breaks within the conversation: including a long, silent sequence where the two cleaned the after-party debris from Laura’s flat, they danced together to ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’ and serenaded each other. These breaks ensured the play continued to feel dynamic and active, in the midst of what is essentially two people talking for almost two hours. 

Especially in the first half of the play, Laura and Danny constantly repeat that the other “doesn’t even know (them)”, but by the end, I really felt that I did. The play is such a skilled character study that, when the plot fails to materialise, the strength of both its characters leads it back to the brilliance you expect from the theatre at this level. Beginning is beautifully acted and simply staged and provides a perfectly enjoyable time at the theatre. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Read all of Jen’s reviews here.

See what’s on at the Royal Exchange in Manchester here

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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