Friday, 10 November 2017

Beginning, Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, Southbank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site
A stripped-back production in many senses, Beginning involves just two actors, one set and one long, long scene. It can be intense. Depicting the aftermath of a house party, the play portrays an elaborate and feisty courtship between the hostess and a male guest she barely knows. One of the conceits is that the pair seem poorly-suited to each other - she is the managing director of some kind of agency with her own flat in Crouch End, while he still lives with his Mum in Essex. There is little chemistry. The result is long, awkward silences, twitchy body language, restless movement and continual shifts of position, as Laura and Danny manoeuvre around the open-plan lounge and kitchen, strewn with party debris, eating, drinking and trying to decide whether to touch each other.

Although the careful choreography is very detailed, the actors and the characters aren't that charismatic - it takes a while for you to care. Moreover, the incompatibility of the two protagonists leaves you questioning where the whole thing is going and why it matters. Are we just watching the prelude to a drunken shag after a house party?  Some of the dialogue seems laboured, featuring digressions about Scotch eggs and Strictly Come Dancing, as does the musical interlude in which the characters take it in turns to gyrate to a party playlist.

Still, as the single scene goes on, important themes begin to emerge. Beginning captures the angst that comes with approaching middle age, the pain of loneliness, the longing of childlessness, and the torture of being a remote parent who never sees their child. Moreover, Justine Mitchell is a talented actress, adept at changing her tone to convey emotion and frustration, while still maintaining the smiling demeanour of someone trying to make a stranger comfortable.

Sam Troughton seems more one dimensional - he plays a passive-aggressive bloke pretty well, but you may feel he struggles to give Danny depth despite the back story about a broken marriage and a daughter he never sees. You wonder whether he really did do an arts degree at Bristol, as he claims after dropping a fancy word into a sentence. The script can be mildly amusing, but is far from hilarious. Although Beginning is a brave exploration of important contemporary issues, it slips in the soft middle ground between comedy and tragedy. 7/10 

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Park, Square Marie-Louise, Brussels

Near the centre of Brussels, the park in middle of the elegant Square Marie-Louise is dominated by a small lake with a fountain, an artificial cave and mature trees.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Sedona, Arizona

Surrounded by red rock and cowboy country, Sedona is a touristy town in the midst of some other-worldly scenery. One of the most popular activities involves off-road tours in pink jeeps.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

On the Road in Sedona, Arizona

With striking red sandstone formations almost everywhere you look, Sedona is a memorable place to go for a drive or a cycle. Spiritualists have imbued this distinctive landscape with healing powers turning Sedona into something of a hotspot for health tourism.

Oak Creek Canyon, near Sedona, Arizona

If you can find a place to park on the right stretch of the A89, you scramble down to Oak Creek at the base of the canyon and have a dip in the water. The river is deep enough for teenagers to jump in and cool off. In August, you won't be alone.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Las Vegas Skyline, Nevada

Views of Vegas from the Marriott's Grand Chateau hotel, which has a rooftop bar on the 38th floor