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Brighton Year-Round 2023


New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Comedic, Contemporary, Drama, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Studio


Low Down

Beginning is the kind of play we all know we need: wincingly heartwarming, devastatingly joyous. It’s quite wonderful. Don’t miss it.

David Eldridge’s Beginning is directed by Richard Lindfield. John Everett’s and George Walter’s glittering dishevelment of party streamers encompasses a smart kitchen where snacks cook in real-time. Apollo Videaux lights up that subdued 2am feel that smarts your eyes. Raucous bursts of pop tear through cobweb intimacies.

Production Manager Nikki Dunsford, Stage Managers Martyn Coates, Carol Croft, Upholster Antonella Marchetto, Poster Strat Mastoris, Programme Tamsin Mastoris, Photography Anna Lawson, Publicity & Marketing Nikki Dunsford, Health & Safety Ian black, Box Office Ian Amos.

Till March 25th.


When it comes to David Eldridge’s Beginning I can only echo Ken Tynan’s peroration “I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger. It is the best young play of its decade.” For those of us lucky  to see the original Beginning at the National Theatre’s Dorfman directed by Polly Findlay in October 2017 it’s remained such a benchmark that I know another reviewer who travels the country to see performances. I wish. Best young-middle-aged play of its decade. How does the New Venture Theatre fare? It’s completely re-thought, and quite right.

In a world corralled by dating apps and Owen Jones’ political Twitter Danny’s still stranded himself in that most traditional of  openings: as the last survivor of a house-warming in Crouch End given by MD Laura. Almost swaying with wine in her new open-plan, she’s disarmingly direct, correcting his assumptions. “I wanted you, Danny.” She’s the pursuer; he hesitates despite returning her feelings. Where you can even prevaricate after that in a hundred minutes is what rivets you to this real-time play.

Another time anchors Beginning, directed with almost painful acuteness by Richard Lindfield. It’s November 2015, and new Corbynite Laura pronounces: ’Things can only get better…. America is going to elect a woman president for the first time in its history.’ There’s Strictly badinage with rival fantasies, and Downton. The fragility of a time so near us yet so far off underpins every chance taken by Laura, Danny, or the world. Even Laura’s third house move in what Danny terms the pesto triangle releases more vulnerable asides for them both.

This studio performance makes it an even more intimate affair than the original Dorfman. There’s an edgy voyeurism as you catch the scent of each actor as they sit bang next to you, or lurch inches away. It’s altogether a more visceral experience.

John Everett’s and George Walter’s glittering dishevelment of party streamers, bin bags and food encompasses a smart kitchen where snacks cook in real-time and Stella explodes over sofas – indeed in the intimate Studio you might get splashed. Apollo Videaux lights up that subdued two a.m. feel that smarts your eyes, with various switches. Raucous bursts of pop tear through cobweb intimacies in yet another exposure: delicately drunk dancing. It’s tangible, even waftable, yet imbued with an innocence we know will be lost, yet again. Still the title signals the resilience of fresh starts like new-baked pizza.

The first third of the play peels back Danny’s fantastical pratfalls and avoidances. Imagining his idiocy on Facebook he dismisses Danny + Laura after ten minutes: “Really hot lady told me I was hot and wanted to sleep with me and I didn’t shut the fuck up.” In fact it’s not expletives of self-criticism but the use of “lady” and the c-word later Laura objects to, unpicking the “Tory-boy”. This is Danny’s Labour-voting but Lord Grantham-would-be-riding nan’s name for him (she’s ninety-two and posts this on Facebook). Eldridge’s dramatic irony doesn’t spare us c-words later from an ironic source, but the wonderment of how to keep swerving from a woman Danny admits he’s extremely attracted to is almost Beginning’s core felicity, including the later dancing and non-dancing stretched out so painfully. Then Danny’s displacement clearing-up and a Pinteresque string of silences. At its heart, however, is a rare tenderness that makes you care desperately for its two bruised protagonists.

The second third peels Danny’s insecurities like winces of sunburn, grounding his shyness and desolation in a wholly believable past. Laura, the sexually confident MD to his muddle-management mess of a life, strips her own pasts and desperations in a way she confidently assumes will make him run like most men. “My life’s a shell of activity” Laura confesses, adding later: “I’ve put my heart in my hand and I’ve shown you it. Offered it. Freely.” After such knowledge, you wonder. They might not know each other but as Danny says “Darling, I am your black cab driver for the night” and she’s his.

Amy Brangwyn’s Laura and Jonathan Howlett’s Danny are completely rethought. In place of Justine Mitchell’s sexy, teasing Laura –always with a little in reserve, building to a magnificent peroration – Brangwyn’s Laura lives in Eldridge’s lines as if every moment had just come to her. Her movements increasingly disinhibited, sashaying drunk, her lines when they come out are either sudden with a rush of revelation she’d not planned, or irritation loosed from her in frustration at Danny’s reluctance. But there’s canny pauses, a more hedonistic way with Eldridge’s script: and it’s wholly justified. And quite a few hopeless, comic collapses on the central upholstered cushion Danny rarely joins her on. Brangwyn finds more laughter in Laura. Her great final speech isn’t a fragile arc of longing, but drink-fuelled, raw in a final bid: a swerving intimate confession clutching at Danny’s question.

Howlett’s Danny is both angrier than Sam Troughton’s, and more edgy, as if his vulnerability might trigger reactions from him wholly opposite to what he wants. There’s less hangdog, more pain. The chemistry between these two is altogether more dangerous, funnier, whiplash. There’s more laughter here than I remember from the Dorfman. Howlett’s silences tell too. And his sit-out of the dancing moment positively darkens the space he sits in. Howlett too is even more the Eldridge Essex-boy; you can see Eldridge archetypes from Market Boy and In Basildon ripple through this Danny; the blokey baffled pain, the wariness and quick sleights.

Do we miss a softer edge to this Danny that we know appeals to Laura? Perhaps. In Troughton though I wasn’t entirely convinced that his Danny’s haplessness would attract her either. Howlett avoids that; his latent energy may be sexy enough. Eldridge’s Laura can bear at least two very different readings. His Danny is even more complex, recondite, personal. Like Danny, Eldridge was 42 when he wrote Beginning.

If Mitchell and Troughton are forever the great originators, Brangwyn and Howlett bring an electrifyingly immediate performance. Everything here in Lindfield’s production has been rethought and redesigned.

In the last stretch every desire and vulnerability seems tested almost to destruction.  With some personal assumptions flayed, it’s if neither wishes to believe their luck or happiness; each seems determined to press unmentionable needs or reflexes so many of us will squirm in our seats. Eldridge’s key insight into the What the F App generation is a bleaching loneliness, people stripped of support, disposable work colleagues whose behaviour can be pitied or scorned. Beginning is the kind of play we all know we need: wincingly heartwarming, devastatingly joyous. It’s quite wonderful. Don’t miss it.