In their final show of the semester, Theatre Group bravely put on David Eldridge's celebrated two-hander ‘Beginning’. And when I say two-hander, the play has one scene and is essentially an extended dialogue that takes place in real time. This made for intense viewing - the audience member to my left said "...and breath" as soon as the actors took their bows. And yet, the play was utterly compelling.
Danny and Laura (James Barr and Meg Ferguson) photos taken by Abby Swain.
The production team (directors Luke Holland, Eddie Tansley, Hannah Gardiner Hill and producers Jack Nolan and Lola Scarr) carved out ways to show their innovative approach from the moment the audience members arrived to stage@Leeds. Rather than trickling in in the order we arrived, we eagerly waited in the foyer before being led, in a single cohort, to the Alec Clegg stage. We were greeted by both the cast and production team partying away on stage. This was a clever way to set up the end-of-party feel — after all, the chemistry between host Laura (Meg Ferguson) and guest Danny (James Barr) sparks in that liminal space after all the other guests have left.
What made the script so absorbing was not just the prominence of gender as a theme, but the unconventional way gender-based-power manifested itself. For instance, Laura's sexual advances are self-admittedly "forward", while Danny shyly reveals his issues with impotency. Laura also earns a lot more money than James and lives independently, much more like a stereotypical male character. About half-way through Laura reveals that she, a woman in her late thirties, is not just after a one-night-stand for pleasure alone, but because she is desperate to have a child, and as a womb-owner, has the power to raise a child by herself from the moment of conception. All these things deeply upset conventional gender dynamics in sexual relationships, and this very imbalance of power leads to the most interesting exchanges in the script: Danny grapples with his perceived lack of masculinity and previous failings as a father, and feels exploited and objectified, like Laura only wants him for his "spunk." I've been thinking about this and its morality in the days since I attended the performance, and I believe this thought-provoking effect is what theatre is really about.
Laura eyes up Danny.
The sensitive dynamic between Laura and Danny, was brilliantly brought to life by Ferguson and Barr. As actors, they seemed comfortable enough in each other's company, that they were able to create the intensity and awkwardness that the script yearns for. The intimacy coordinator, Amy Kaye, deserves a special mention for her role in creating such professionalism in partial nudity, and is the first example I have seen in student theatre.
The only thing I would have changed in the play was the length of the dance scene. The brief bursts of song were a welcome break from the lack of sound elsewhere, and created a new way for the characters to interact. But they were over just as both the characters and audience were getting into it. Maybe that's just me, a sucker for an expected dance scene.
Overall, Holland's vision to recreate the play his drama teacher introduced to him five years ago resulted in a quiet triumph of a certainly out-there piece of theatre.