In this variation, middle-aged Essex-born couple Gary and Maggie have been on autopilot in a marriage (boy meets girl) that has slowly been declining for 13 years, both partners unravelling and isolated in their loneliness. On this particular night, Maggie has decided to finally tell Gary she no longer loves him, and has met another man (boy loses girl). After an hour and forty minutes, Gary persuades Maggie to give their marriage another chance (boy gets girl). Okay. So why do we care?
The play’s internal premise is that every one of us has been in a romantic relationship on the rocks, so anyone can relate to these characters’ disappointments and desires, particularly if you have been in a long-term relationship or marriage. Eldridge is reaching for the soul-bearing truth of this dramatic situation, but seems to have forgotten that universality is in the details; there isn’t enough specificity in these characters to create an account of searing honesty. Instead, it falls flat, banking on the fact that a frustrated white heterosexual couple are universally relatable.
Middle at the National Theatre. Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan. Photo: Johan Persson
Director Polly Findlay, who directed Beginning, once again teams up with Eldridge for this second instalment of his trilogy on love and relationships. For this ‘middle’ play, the direction feels clunky, with Maggie and Gary aimlessly switching places across Fly Davis’ pristine set detailing their modern six-bedroom house on The Mount in Billericay, Essex. The characters feel lived in but not fully formed – the acting talents of Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan add a depth of authenticity to the characters but they can only do so much with the low stakes offered in the script.
Eldridge is best known for his stage adaptation of the Danish film Festen which made waves at the Almeida, the West End and Broadway. For Middle, he has set the play in his home county of Essex. Using his typically naturalistic style (sentences left unfinished, repetitions of words and phrases) he peppers the text with jokes which at times feel at odds with the sombre content that it becomes jarring, and is counterintuitive to his goal of making the play as emotionally raw as possible. It should be pointed out that Gary is the one that gets all the laugh lines, which makes sense as he is desperately trying to avoid discussing the marital implosion at hand, but this imbalance makes it seem as if Maggie doesn’t have the wit to fight back using wryness. At its baseline, this could be read as, ‘Men are funny. Women lack humour. Men are avoidant. Women are emotional’.
Middle’s dramatic conflict has the potential to be poignant, but never quite reaches that level. This is disappointing as Eldridge has proved with his portfolio of work that he is capable of more.
|Middle, National Theatre review
|National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
27 Apr 22 – 14 Jun 22, 7:30 PM – 9:10 PM
|£20 - £65
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