Review: Beginning – King Alfred Phoenix Theatre

Mary Groom watches the latest play East Finchley drama group, Theatre in the Square

A woman sitting on a sofa facing a man sitting on a chair - on stage in a production of Beginning by David Eldridge
A rehearsal image from Beginning – Credit – JohnMWatsonPhotography

Beginning by David Eldridge was the latest production by East Finchley-based group, Theatre in the Square, performed at the King Alfred Phoenix Theatre from 10th-13th April.

The play shows in real time the beginning (or possible beginning) of a new relationship between Laura and Danny. Laura has hosted a flat warming party and Danny is the last guest remaining. They’ve been exchanging flirtatious glances all evening but now that they’re alone, we see whether anything is actually going to happen between them.

This is a simple but captivating premise, and we get to know the two characters as they get to know each other. Naomi Smallwood plays Laura, a successful woman who knows what she wants, and Matthew Pert plays Danny, an apparent Essex boy who litters his conversation with “babe” but has hidden depths. Throughout the play, they move continually towards and away from each other, keeping the audience on tenterhooks as to whether they can finally connect. 

Both actors played every nuance and moment of the script skilfully, showing us who the characters are and how they are feeling in every action and look. This is a play where even eating a fish finger sandwich in silence is riveting and loaded with suspense. Over the hour and a half of the play our attention never dropped. 

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The play was cleverly directed by Colin Joseph, with assistance from Lynn Fidler, and they had clearly worked hard with the actors to make full use of the space and the script. The set was simple and stylish, every inch the living room/kitchen of a Crouch End flat (although perhaps a little bigger than most!). The debris of the party was believably done, with empty food packets, bottles and cans strewn over every surface.

Being a play very much set in North London and being performed in Golders Green, the local references landed particularly well with the audience (“Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Highgate. It’s the pesto triangle”) but the universality of two people trying to make a connection is ultimately what makes this compelling.

It is a brave move for an amateur group to put on a two-hander, but this production has more than paid off that risk. Although it is sad to see more and more professional theatres struggling, with ticket prices rising and less chances being taken on original material, it is heartening to be reminded that amateur theatre groups are putting on shows like this of comparable quality and for a fraction of the price. I would encourage you to make every effort to see the group’s next productions.

The playwright himself came to see the show and called it a “funny, heartfelt delight”. I completely concur. The performances were superb and the production a beautiful reminder of the difficulty of “beginning”. 

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