Review Round Up: Middle, National Theatre

We take a look at what critics have had to say about David Eldridge’s follow up to the play Beginning, which is playing at the Dorfman Theatre until the 18th June.

(c)Johan Persson

WhatsOnStage: *** “Polly Findlay’s direction, which keeps things taut and watchful, and the fine performances hold the attention as Rick Fisher’s nuanced lighting charts the progress from night to day, and the play ends, like its predecessor, with a gleam of possibility.”

Time Out: **** “Actors Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan extract every nuance and layer from the characters – the deep, controlled sadness that brims up constantly in her voice makes the demands she’s making of Gary, who’s gutted, seem less cruel and more desperate.”

British Theatre.com: ***** “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.”

The Reviews Hub: *** 1/2: ‘There is a lot of backstory in Middle that comes out in conversation, some of it a surprise to a couple who would presumably know each other’s stories after more than a decade together, and there is a repetitiveness that starts to creep in as dawn rises in Fly Davis kitchen-living room set. But these are offset by Findlay’s tight control and the central performances. With another chapter to come in Eldridge’s three-play cycle, Middle is appropriately middling.”

London Theatre.co.uk: *** “But, though sincere, Eldridge’s portrait feels too conservative and inconsequential. It basically boils down to a white, straight couple with a conventional family life, who are grappling with problems that many viewers could only dream of – like that six-bedroom house. I did feel invested in whether Maggie and Gary are in a midlife crisis, or just in the middle of their lives together, but only to a middling degree.”

Evening Standard: **** “But really, it comes down to the performances. Maggie detonates a bomb under the marriage in the first five minutes, with the kind of statement that usually ends rather than begins a story. Rushbrook eloquently unpacks what brought the character to that point. Ryan’s Gary is sometimes oafish – opining on the “sex desert” all new parents have to navigate – but more often a quietly poignant figure. Together they excavate a marital pit of regret, but this emotional workout ends on a sliver of hope.”

The Guardian: *** “It feels like a true and tender representation of a marriage in its middle stages, a drama that is tepid at times, a little plodding and soft around the edges but forging on – much like middle age itself.”

The Telegraph: **** ” Superb performances from Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan bolster David Eldridge’s subtle, poignant drama.”

London Unattached: “In some ways, Middle is a more difficult play than Beginning. It is a more natural fit to combine humour with the pitfalls of dating than with the breakdown of a longstanding relationship. At times the comedy sits uncomfortably against the backdrop of sadness and interrupts the emotional unravelling. More often the jokes are genuinely funny. Sometimes the verbal exposition of the couple’s backstory is a bit too obvious. As a whole, though, Middle is engrossing, sad, full of wit and beautifully performed. I am already looking forward to seeing what David Eldridge comes up with for “End”.”

The Stage: ** “David Eldridge’s slow-paced two-hander, a sort-of sequel to 2017’s Beginning, features strong performances from Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan that can’t hide its low stakes and lack of dramatic energy.”

The Arts Desk: *** “Although playwright David Eldridge often writes in opposition to these outdate forms, his trilogy about relationships, which started in 2017 with the hit show Beginning, now reaches its second part with Middle, which opened tonight at the National Theatre. No prizes for guessing what the final part will be called. Like its predecessor, this one is directed by Polly Findlay, and this time stars Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan, but how does it compare to Beginning?”

The Independent: *** “Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan give nuanced performances as a married couple on the brink of splitting, but the script feels exposition-heavy.”

Culture Whisper: *** “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.”

Broadway World: *** “Their performances are anchored by astoundingly crafted direction. Director Polly Findlay and movement director Anna Morrissey understand and manipulate the space between the actors to map the emotional landscape. The two are like conductors of an orchestra revealing the warmth, indignation, and melancholy from the score, in this case Eldridge’s at times meandering script.”

The Times: ** “David Eldridge has returned to couples’ territory, only with less stimulating results.”

There Ought to be Clowns: Played out with measured naturalism from director Polly Findlay in the show-home sterility of Fly Davis’ set, Middle finds a note of affecting tragicomedy. Those looking for pulse-quickening drama should probably look elsewhere, this is a stark examination of how we often take those nearest to us for granted, told through the meandering, unfocused haze of the early hours.”

British Theatre Guide: “Middle is not be easy watching. It is the kind of crisis that so many couples experience, but both actors give superb performances and it is highly recommended.”

London Theatre1: **** “The play is much funnier than it deserves to be, given the subject matter, and at times it is heart-stoppingly sad and it asks important questions, about why people stay together, why they ‘see things through’, and the compromises and sacrifices we make for the people we love, and the resentments that can cause.”

To find out more about Middle visit: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/middle

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