MIDDLE is the second part of a trilogy from the pen of David Eldridge that examines the forming of relationships, their bumps along the way and presumably their passing.
Beginning was performed at the National Theatre five years ago. End, I presume, will be performed at the same venue between now and 2027.
As in Beginning, Eldridge’s play is a two header, but it’s a different couple this time around. Where before it was Laura (Justine Mitchell) and Danny (Sam Troughton) it’s now Maggie (a splendid Claire Rushbrook) and Gary (an equally good Daniel Ryan).
Rather than forming a relationship as Laura and Danny did, they’re desperately struggling to keep theirs together. It’s a tired marriage, worn down by too much work (Gary), boredom (Maggie), infrequent and unenjoyable sex (Gary and Maggie) and a child that Gary dotes on, much to Maggie’s annoyance. Resentment burns away like bad smelling incense.
There’s a class divide – Gary is working class while Maggie comes from good middle class stock. Massive chips on Gary’s shoulders, a sense that Maggie thinks she could have done better for herself (she wanted a career in the arts, but ended up in insurance).
Although infidelity has been on Maggie’s mind (she’s met a rather nice policeman), she’s yet to consummate it. Gary’s mind is bogged down by ensuring their daughter gets the very best schooling, convincing his employer that he is not past it, and a big love of West Ham FC.
The play, skilfully written, is like a being on a see-saw as Gary fights to keep his beloved Maggie. All seems lost – and then he seems to get through to her that not all is broke. The man in blue is not the answer. Yet it see-saws again.
Ding-dong. Ding-dong. Solutions galore are proffered; ranging from the use of impressive dildos through to sleeping in separate rooms for a while.
It’s a battle of words. Two hours of words – there are no interruptions – and all the verbal exchanges take place in a lounge and kitchen the sizes of which suggest that Gary’s hard work has born them plenty of financial fruit – even if the fruitiness in their relationship has evaporated like morning dew.
Directed by Polly Findlay (who also directed Beginning), this is riveting viewing – and no doubt will get many viewers to examine their own relationships.
The acting is first class, Eldridge’s writing is socially edgy and presient, and the production is the National Theatre at its best.
End. I can’t wait for it.
Photo by Johan Persson