Last Updated on 5th May 2022
Paul T Davies reviews Middle by David Eldridge now playing at the National Theatre London.
4 May 2022
We can all identify the Beginning, the way a relationship started, it’s part of our history and shared memories. Sometimes we can see the End coming. But how do you know you’re in the Middle? Surely that’s the time that’s hardest to measure. We meet Gary and Maggie, middle-aged, in the middle of the night. She is making a hot drink; he has come downstairs to see if she is okay. Their daughter, Annabelle, sleeps upstairs, yet her presence hangs over the marriage. Maggie tells Gary she doesn’t love him anymore. David Eldridge’s excellent new play nails The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Marriage.
The acting is sublime. As Gary, Daniel Ryan effortlessly is the average “Essex Geezer” made good, a city boy who works hard to maintain his big house and wanting the best for his daughter. He knocks away Maggie’s shattering revelation, not wanting to face it, thinking they’ve just had a lovely Valentine’s weekend, regretting he didn’t pack the vibrator he bought to bring sparkle back into their marriage. His timing is superb, as is Claire Rosebrook’s as Maggie, insisting that they need to talk, revealing she may be in love with another man, heartbreakingly recounting miscarriages and IVF until their “miracle” daughter arrived. The most moving aspect is that she finds her daughter difficult, that, for her, it wasn’t a fairy-tale ending, and bringing her up at home while Gary worked was lonely. The script brings a lump to your throat, then rips it out with laughter as, for example, Gary dances to their song, and they recall happier memories. Once he admits he no longer wants to play the City banker, that he is getting too old, the honesty becomes even more raw.
It’s a perfect synergy between director, (Polly Findlay honouring the script superbly), actors and writer, as they negotiate through the fracturing marriage, sometimes as far apart as they can get on Fly Davis’s perfect urban house set, sometimes close enough to possibly repair their relationship- you root for them all through the show. It’s all played with English restraint, even when Gary smashes plates and glass, he is still careful to not aim any at Maggie. Funny, believable and relatable, this is an excellent evening at the National, an intimate and realistic portrait of modern love and aspirations. As the sun comes up and the daily routine begins again, we want to know whether this is, indeed, the End. Outstanding.
Runs at the National Theatre until 18 June 2022