David Eldridge
Royal Exchange Theatre
Royal Exchange Theatre

Gerard Kearns (Danny) & Erin Shanagher (Laura) Credit: Helen Murray
Erin Shanagher (Laura) & Gerard Kearns (Danny) Credit: Helen Murray
Erin Shanagher (Laura) & Gerard Kearns (Danny) Credit: Helen Murray
Gerard Kearns (Danny) Credit: Helen Murray
Erin Shanagher Credit: Helen Murray
Gerard Kearns Credit: Helen Murray
Erin Shanagher (Laura) Credit: Helen Murray
Gerard Kearns (Danny) & Erin Shanagher (Laura) Credit: Helen Murray
Gerard Kearns (Danny) & Erin Shanagher (Laura) Credit: Helen Murray

Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan has relocated David Eldridge's first play in his ongoing trilogy, originally a hit at the National Theatre in 2017, from Crouch End to West Didsbury.

The setting is Laura's (Erin Shanagher) posh new flat after a Saturday night house-warming party where everyone has gone except Danny (Gerard Kearns), who came as the plus-one of Keith, one of Laura's clients. They are clearly attracted to one another, but Danny looks as though he's not sure why he's still there—he believed all night that she fancied Keith as he has "no radar"—whereas she is quite up-front about wanting him: she is "forward" as he puts it.

She is 38, fairly well-off, parents both dead and the owner of a small company, but is single after a 10-year relationship collapsed. He is 42, single, broke, living with his mum and nan and has not had sex for a long time, and he hasn't seen his 7-year-old daughter for four years as the mother moved to Cornwall. As she tries to coax him into kissing her and he keeps finding ways to move away, she stops him in his tracks with the words, "I'm ovulating."

So she has other motives, with an eye on the biological clock, but it's more complex than that. She genuinely does fancy him and want to spend the night with him, plus she wants to avoid, at least this weekend, the loneliness of waking up alone on a Sunday morning. He, in turn, speaks of the loneliness of a man in his 40s on a Monday night in front of the telly with his mum and nan having nothing to say to one another and fears rejection and having another kid he'll never see.

While all of that may sound quite serious, a lot of the play is laugh-out-loud funny, from his crass comments and her putting her foot in it to his 90-year-old nan's fondness for Facebook. The dialogue begins as Mamet-like broken sentences showing their awkwardness but proceeds with deep revelations as they become tentatively closer emotionally if not physically, testing each other's limits and senses of humour. There are some moments of chaste togetherness, including clearing up the debris from the party at his insistence, making fish finger butties in her white Smeg oven and some not particularly seductive dancing.

The finale never seems inevitable, even as the audience wishes for it as, other than the sexual tension, these are two likeable characters who deserve to have the emptiness in their lives filled, and they could perhaps do that for one another. However, in the interval-less hour and fifty minutes of dithering, persuading and resisting, there are plenty of moments when you'd think one of them would have given it up as a bad job. Perhaps it is telling about a Royal Exchange audience that, amongst all of the revelations and cringeworthy faux pas, the thing that got the biggest gasp was when he broke the cork in the wine bottle.

The two actors both create very appealing, insecure characters with some lovely comic touches in gesture and delivery that never overstep the bounds of the essential realism of the piece. Shanahan's direction largely keeps the pace perfect, with even the lengthy silences earned and significant, although it was starting to drag just a little by the end for me.

However, this is a very entertaining, genuinely funny but quite touching piece of theatre that is definitely worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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