In Life for Beginners , a new piece from Theatre503 artistic directors Paul Robinson and Tim Roseman, five stories combine. Although each is a separate tale, they are linked by the degree of anguish and heartache it takes for the characters to connect with each other.
The vignettes, each the work of a different playwright, focus on five diverse relationships, from the clumsy attempts of a sperm to seduce an egg to the very modern tale of a lonely couple in their 60s finding love through Guardian Soulmates. The interwoven structure adds to the sense of disconnection and missed opportunity as the narratives are often abruptly severed at a moment of tension, using the starkly lit and sparsely furnished set to make fluid transitions between the various characters’ lives.
Despite the sadness behind many of the stories, the mood is upbeat and, as in real life, the humour lights the way through the heartache. The moment where scientist James (Peter Bramhill) describes parenting his unexpected child as popping round to “collect data” is sharply hurtful to his partner yet a comically incisive comment on absent fathers. The poignancy of the city farm where the hurting, damaged and abused find each other is lightened by Matt Hartley’s awkward teenage characters, while Kate Sissons’ portrayal of the classic tart-with-a-heart in Rex Obano’s piece on reality TV culture is familiar and heart-rending.
Although the stories are individually intriguing, the mingled structure feels stilted at times and stops the unique style of each writer shining in the way it might in a more sustained work. The moment where all of the characters do come together has a magical quality and a sense of freedom and flow, creating a powerful contrast with the rest of the piece and hinting that, after all, it is still possible to find resolution and connection.
The individual performances are subtle and engaging, and the comments on love, life and pregnancy both heartfelt and comic. As new writing should, it holds up a mirror to society and provokes thought and discussion, leaving the audience with plenty of work to do.
- Mel West