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Review | Beginning | Royal Exchange Theatre | 22/02/2023

Following a sold out run at National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre, ‘Beginning’ went on to have a limited season at Ambassadors Theatre in 2018. Now, some 5 years later, it has found its way to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, as the opening show in its 2023 season.

We find ourselves in Laura’s flat, where her and fellow singleton Danny as the last ones standing after a house party. Invited by a friend, Danny doesn’t know anything about Laura prior to this night. This creates a unique experience for both those on stage and in the audience, as we all get to know the characters for the first time, in real time, simultaneously.

Being performed in real time, set on a single night, it works well as a one act play and an interval would have disturbed any realism created. This inevitably means it is a long one act, at 1hr 50mins. However, David Eldridge’s charming writing pulls you in from the first word to the last, making the time disappear in an instant. The text feels real and believable, you really do feel like a fly on the wall. Under Bryony Shanahan’s direction, silences are used to great effect for both humorous and anxiety inducing moments. The space is used to full effect by the two person cast, matching the mood of the scene against the closeness/distance of the actors whilst also ensuring that every seat is a good seat.

The theatre has been transformed into Laura’s West Didsbury flat. Creating this realistically in such an open in-the-round space, whilst not having it get lost was always going to be a challenge. TK Hay’s set design however works perfectly, with working taps, ovens and fridges being used throughout, helping enhance authenticity. The darkness of the tarmacked floor successfully blurs the lines between audience and stage, whilst being in the round further helps the audience feel like they are in the room with Laura (Erin Shanagher) and Danny (Gerard Kearns). Whilst the tarmac may initially seem an odd choice, Hay described it being something usually only used whilst in transit between destinations, which effectively is what this play is all about.

We witness all of those awkward moments, language misinterpretation and searching for common ground. We are treated to a fascinating dialogue about what they each want in the world, which tells us more about the characters than just a mutual love for scotch eggs! There are plenty of laugh out loud moments in this often light-hearted play. The juxtaposition between humour and more serious elements is done successfully by keeping everything very real. Both Shanagher and Kearns are believable and endearing throughout, there will be at least a part of either of their characters that will resonate with people. It is relatable, authentic and convincing which is why it works so well.

It is refreshing to see a male be vulnerable on stage, which Kearns plays to perfection. It is equally refreshing to see the female taking the lead in pursuing the man, and on her own terms. Although, it would have been interesting to see a female in her late 30s not actually yearning to have children. The stigma about choosing not to have children is still there and it would have been even more interesting to see that narrative getting explored.

I have often wondered what it would be like to revisit the first time I had met partners and friends, and be able watch it back through different eyes. To see how we navigated initial conversations, before we knew each other’s nature and traits. This play gives you a fascinating insight in to just that and each moment is utterly enthralling to watch.

'Beginning' is on at Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until 11 March 2023. Full booking info below:

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.

Photo credit: Helen Murray

Official Trailer

Review Trailer


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