By Erin Osman
After its initial run at the National Theatre in 2017, Beginning has finally made its way to Manchester. Written by David Eldridge, and directed by Bryony Shanahan, the play stars just two actors: Erin Shanagher (who plays Laura) and Gerard Kearns (who plays Danny).
The play is an intimate portrayal of a first meeting between two people, and potential lovers. It is an awkward, uncomfortable, vulnerable, heartwarming, and heartbreaking play about loneliness, love, grief, and desperation. The audience, who are seated all around the stage, become the voyeurs to this possible new beginning. We hear every breath and every gasp, as the circular stage at the Royal Exchange places us within the set itself.
Laura is 38. Her last relationship was ten years long, but she’s been single now for three. She’s just bought a new, one-bed flat in West Didsbury, and is the Managing Director at her company. It’s Saturday, and on Monday she dreads having to make three more people redundant.
Danny is 42. He lives near Heaton Park with his mum and his nan. Earlier that day, he’d thought about jumping in front of a train. He’s had an affair, is divorced, and hasn’t been allowed to see his daughter Annabel since she was three. He has a ketchup stain on his white shirt, and he mentions his nan perhaps too often.
At the beginning of the play, Laura and Danny seem totally different. Danny is a bit of a mess. But Laura, in a floaty, flowery jumpsuit and cropped, neat hair, is distinctively put-together. Her new flat is gorgeous, and the events of the evening take place around her fancy kitchen island, and between her cushioned sofas and velvet chaise lounge.
The pair meet at Laura’s housewarming party. Danny is a friend of a sort-of-friend who she had accidentally invited whilst she had had a few too many a few days before (thus, the pair’s meeting feels like destiny). But despite their differences, the pair are drawn together. Throughout the night, Danny can’t keep his eyes off Laura, and the feeling is mutual.
Since there is no space in the Uber, Danny stays behind for awhile, and the pair strike up something of a conversation. It is fumbling and awkward. It is as if both become hyper-aware of their bodies, and even their movements are stilted and self-conscious. But they clearly get on. Despite a few misunderstandings, they find each other funny, and it is at this moment that the audience starts to wonder whether this could, in fact, be the Beginning of something.
Laura is impressively forthcoming. She is certain of what she wants. She tells Danny that she wants him to kiss her, that in the morning, she wants to walk to Sainsbury’s Local and make them both breakfast. She doesn’t want Danny to go home immediately the next day; she wants him to give his mum a bell and tell her he won’t be home for his Sunday roast or the Strictly results.
But Danny is hesitant, he’s insecure, he doesn’t understand what Laura sees in him. Quite reasonably, he reminds her that they are total strangers., that he has a daughter, that he has baggage.
But despite her outwardly appearance, Laura has baggage of her own. Laura’s mum died of cancer when she was 20, and her dad died shortly after, having buried his sadness in alcohol and substances. Throughout her whole life, Laura has been sensible, and she is so tired of being sensible. Shanagher offers a well-crafted, multi-faceted portrayal of a successful woman
While at the beginning of the play, Danny and Laura seem as if they couldn’t be more different, by the end, we realise that they, like all of us, are essentially just the same. They are both lonely, and they both long for romance. They both want children and a home, they both want to cook dinner for two and watch Strictly. There is an essential desperation in both of them, and a beautiful simplicity in their desires.
Belonging captures the awkwardness between two people perfectly: the long-drawn out silences, embarrassing dancing, the uncomfortable body language, and fumbling conversation. But despite all this, Belonging also captures the beauty of such an interaction. It is beautifully awkward, and depicts a kind of relatable desperation. At the end of the play, both actors stand in just their underwear: a physical depiction of their vulnerability.
And what happens at the end of the play? Do Laura and Danny work? Do they stay together? Will this all have been for nothing? We don’t find out. But, well, that’s life. And, in life, who knows?
Belonging runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre until March 11.
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