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Review: Beginning at the Royal Exchange Theatre is ‘unique, raw and not to be missed’

David Eldridge’s charming play Beginning is being hosted at Manchester’s iconic Royal Exchange Theatre, providing a unique experience that is not to be missed!

Bryony Shanahan is Joint Artistic Director, with Polly Wain as Assistant Director, together providing a powerful presentation.

The play is distinct utilizing only two actors for the whole production, Erin Shanagher as Laura, and Gerard Kearns as Danny, who we watch over the course of a couple of hours, deciphering their past and their intentions in real time along with them.

Beginning is a tale of two people meeting for the first time.

Taking place within Laura’s new home, around a kitchen island and a couple of squashy armchairs, her and Danny’s relationship develops in a seemingly organic way. They are the last two people left after Laura’s housewarming, Danny’s reason for hanging back is unclear, and could even be by accident. But Laura is pleased, intrigued by Danny and hoping to get to know him better.

The performances of both Shanagher and Kearns are stellar. For the entire duration of the play, they are present on stage.

They constantly revolve around the circular space, and while keeping their actions naturalistic, their movements are big and broad, so that audiences behind their backs can still read the actors’ movements and gauge their emotions.

Embodying roles of people aged thirty-eight and forty-two, respectively, their enactments of Laura and Danny bring a raw realness and vulnerability to what it is to find love, after harsh life lessons that make it difficult to trust again.

They depict a true image of what it means to wear your heart on your sleeve, while carrying a certain helplessness and uncertainty of whether the other will let them down, though hoping to be proven wrong. Beginning is a story of new beginnings and possibilities, and Shanagher and Kearns perfectly demonstrate how scary yet exciting this can be.

Helen Murray

The nature of this connection is cleverly achieved through the lack of time jumps that are usually expected and accepted within a piece of theatre, instead Beginning retains a true and ‘life-like’ progression, and the conversations take place in ‘real time’, enfolding the audience into the highs and lows, actions and awkward silences that are inevitable when two people discuss world themes and deep pasts with someone else they barely know.

Beginning is distinct from other plays of its kind as it features no interval. The events of the evening run entirely uninterrupted.

Set designer TK Hay keeps the set quite simple, a kitchen island being the main focus, which begins covered in dirty glasses, half-drank bottles of beer, and empty food containers, with a couple of armchairs, a sofa, and an end table within the living area, also covered in discarded pieces of the party.

The lighting is coordinated by lighting director Zoe Spurr, and it oscillates between mood lighting, illuminating the characters in moments of deep connection, while at other times highlighting the awkwardness of each prolonged silence.

The Royal Exchange theatre itself lends a hand to the feeling of being encapsulated within the narrative, given that the stage sits within a glass dome-like structure, with the audiences seated in the round, literally circulating the action.

Debuted and well received by audiences in 2017 at the National Theatre, Beginning has been remastered for a Mancunian audience, swapping out references to the capital for locations in and around Manchester.

Laura’s flat is based in Didsbury, with Chorlton, Sale, Altrincham, and Platt Lane being mentioned, to name a few.

Although, there are a few details that remain from the original that date stamps the play, such as the discussion of ‘America electing a woman president next year’ – of course, a modern audience can recognise that this did not happen, but it is still effective within the theatre, working as a kind of sad dramatic irony.

Beginning is being performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 11th March, tickets start at £10, with a limited number of discounted tickets for those under 30, and some available under the Pay What You Decide scheme.

More details and tickets can be found here. Accessible performances are taking place as follows: relaxed performance on 1st March, 2:30pm; BSL performance with Lizzie Wharton on 2nd March, 7:30pm; captioned performances are on 4th March at 2:30pm and 7:30pm; and an audio described performance on 4th March at 2:30pm with touch tour taking place beforehand.

As mentioned above, Beginning runs entirely uninterrupted, which means there is no interval.

The play runs non-stop for around one hour and fifty minutes. There is use of strong language, as well as adult themes and depictions of smoking, drinking, and drug taking. The recommended age guidance is fourteen years and up.

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