David Eldridge’s well-written two-hander Beginning has a runtime of 1 hour 40 minutes, without interval. Yet its story appears to fly by in what seems like the shortest of times, such is its well-written script of witty, but also honest banter of two singles, drawn together at a party’s end. It is in intimate real time that we watch as shy and ‘kind-faced’ 42-year-old middle-manager Danny (Jesse Blachut) remains as the last man standing in the aftermath of very-interested friend-of-a-friend 38-year-old managing director Laura’s (Crystal Arons) London housewarming party. Over some more beverages and boogies, their conversation ebbs and flows as they try to navigate their vulnerabilities, overcome their fears and end their loneliness, leaving us to wonder if this is going to be the beginning of something for which they both maybe have been longing.
Maintaining audience engagement through a seemingly low-key story of real time pacing brings with it an automatic challenge, however, considered direction from Heidi Gledhill, embraces the opportunities of the structure. The production allows adequate sit in its silences, not just of its intense moments as true selves and motivations are revealed, but in its identifiable awkward stalls in conversation as, for example, Danny talks about the lack of proper food in Laura’s fridge and the need for a bit of a tidy up in order to relax. And although the two characters remain on stage together throughout the show, effective blocking keeps things moving around the stage, always with space between then, yet still keeping their actions naturalistic.
The work, which is showing in its Australian debut, is very English, not just in well-done accents, but in its talk of Tescos, scotch eggs and nights at home watching Strictly, but also of an era of when internet dating is where it is at (things would have been so much easier if they had just met online, Laura observes). Cultural time and place mentions from Bothan to Bros bring much of the play’s joy too, with staging and costuming also adding to its character.
Whether admonishing Danny’s swearing, or offering up ‘quite forward’ flirtation, Arons is natural in her conveyance of Laura’s complexity of confidence but at-the-same-time shell-of-activity dread of weekends ultimately spent alone. Likewise, Blachut is, wonderful as the well-drawn Danny, in initial nervous chuckles to himself, and then later in the fragile vulnerability of his lonely heartbreak’s pain, shown more than told. He brings a lot of the show’s humour through his well-timed ‘lack of a radar’ observations and fumbling small talk of his Nan’s social media use. This means that when things move into more serious territory and protective layers are peeled away, we are right there feeling hope for their luckless, damaged characters, drawn into their story and stories, game-playing baggage and all, by the performers’ honed chemistry.
Beginning is funny and full of poignant emotion. There is a clear power in the honesty of its realness and presentation of authentic characters not often seen on stage. And its status as the first of a trilogy of plays to look at love and relationships, only brings the question of when we might now see Middle and beyond in a Brisbane theatre too.