Danny reckons his radar’s not working. He’s no good at spotting a come-on. Still, here he is somehow, clutching his beer like a lifebuoy, about to sleep with Laura following her house warming party. Or not. Adrift in an ocean of post-party debris Laura is almost at her wits end, showing the patience of Job as Danny keeps throwing up walls. Yet maybe Danny’s radar isn’t faulty after all. For there’s dangers swimming about in these sexually charged waters, in which both might drown if they’re not careful. In David Eldridges’ “Beginning” attracted opposites negotiate the frustrations, failings and foibles of love in twenty-first century Crouch End, London. Like its two adorable protagonists, “Beginning” finds perfection in looking through the cracks. For cracks are where its light shines through. And when it shines, and it most certainly shines, “Beginning” is resplendent, illuminating, and glorious good fun.
First produced in 2017, Eldridge’s “Beginning,” receiving its Irish premiere, has all the hallmarks of a will they, won’t they classic. Under Eldridges’ astute gaze, the tried and tested 'boy meets girl one memorable night’ format yields up something special. Not solely on account of its heartfelt and humorous perceptiveness when it comes to human fears and longings, compressed into a real time hour and forty-five minutes. There’s also its depth of emotion, peeping through shyly at first, returning intermittently for slightly longer peeks, before rushing at you in an open armed embrace. In between, Essex boys and London girls, Labour Party members and Tories negotiate the political and politically correct to find that the stuff they use to define themselves is utter nonsense. For behind all the jargon and slogans, all they believe and doubt, all the future Facebook fantasies, the heart still wants what the heart still wants and beats or bleeds accordingly.
A sentiment subtly conveyed by Sarah Bacon’s superb set. Like “Beginning,” Bacon knows how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, designing on the level of the subliminal. The room might look like the morning after an idealised night before, but this island of bottles and beer cans is where the shipwrecked of life get washed up. Their vulnerability wonderfully underscored by a ‘handle with care’ print partially hidden beneath party balloons and bunting. All perfectly lit by Sinéad McKenna’s pitch perfect lighting.
Compositionally, as with pacing, director Marc Atkinson does a sterling job, seeming to leave no fingerprints as cast and creatives shine. None more so than a heartbreakingly brilliant Marty Rea, and a heart-achingly superb Eileen Walsh, both turning in magnificent performances. Rea’s shirt stained, evasive Essex boy Danny, with a spot on accent to boot, delivers a perfect study in awkward vulnerability, of damaged thinking itself broken far beyond repair. Walsh’s Bros-loving Laura, one part siren, one part desperate, and all parts heart, is simply stunning. Showing meticulous attention to even the minutest detail Rea and Walsh craft a chemically charged performance that’s just irresistible, the distance between them as palpable a Bacon’s set, their tentative reaching out towards one another crackling with laughter and vibrancy.
Returning to the beginning to find a way of beginning, Eldridge’s odd couple, living either side of the dreaded forty, seek that first step that begins every journey. A journey some may no longer believe in, yet for others it's the only one worth taking. And for all, “Beginning” is an endless joy. One that might place even the most cynical and stone-hearted under its spell, which it is unafraid of taking its time to weave. Indeed, whether cooking fish fingers, cleaning the apartment, or dancing to your hearts content, “Beginning” isn’t afraid to take all the time it needs. Something Atkinson understands and embraces, for he knows “Beginning” has nowhere it needs to take you. Once Rea and Walsh take to the stage, you’re already there. And you won’t want to be anywhere else than in their splendid company. A flaws and all rom com for the digital twenty-first century, “Beginning” is joyous and unmissable.
“Beginning” by David Eldridge, runs at the Gate Theatre until April 20
For more information, visit The Gate Theatre.