12 years ago David Eldridge was a founding member of the Monsterists - a collective of younger playwrights urging each other to leave black box theatres behind them and think bigger. Its manifesto included the declaration that a monsterist work should be "Large scale, large concept and, possibly, large cast."
A year later he duly premiered Market Boy, under the direction of Rufus Norris (now artistic director of the National) on the NT's largest Olivier stage, a teeming large-scale play set in Romford market.
Now, for his first return to the NT since then, he's gone miniaturist; but this deceptively low-key play detonates with a real charge of feeling and drama, as it charts the tentative start of a new relationship between two lonely singletons. She's 38, a company managing director and living in a swanky new home in Crouch End, where she's just thrown a house-warming party. He's 42, and came as the guest of a friend of his. Now, in the early hours of Sunday morning, they're the only two left.
There's a clock on the kitchen wall that tells its after 2 in the morning when the play starts (and nearly 4am when it ends); but there's a louder clock ticking: her biological clock. Could Danny be the provider of the sperm she needs for a baby? And could this, in fact, evolve into something deeper and more long lasting? He's wary - as well he might. He's been stung before; he pines for a daughter, now 7, whom he last saw when she was 3; and doesn't want a second child he might be denied access to.
And all this on a first date! In its portrait of loneliness, longing and need, Eldridge's play stings with suppressed emotions, too. There are the classic signs of love addicts, too: as they vividly imagine the domestic future they might have together, you sense two characters desperately clinging to the hope that this one encounter might be the solution to all their problems. (Amongst the characteristics of sex and love addiction is this: "We confuse love with neediness, physical and sexual attraction, pity and/or the need to rescue or be rescued.") Eldridge's play packs a lot into a short time. (It plays out in a continuous 1 hour 40 minutes). But is acted with utter conviction and emotional truth by the gorgeously tentative Sam Troughton (he adorably apologises for his belly when he takes his shirt off) and a needy, vulnerable Justine Mitchell.
By a curious coincidence, it is the second play this week to open in London that run under two hours and feature just two actors, charting the blossomings of heterosexual romances. As with Heisenberg - which was exceptionally played by Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham - this is a feast of good acting; it's also even more poignantly articulated in a far simpler, more low-key production by Polly Findlay.
What the press said...
"It’s just a man and a woman and some gradual late-night truth-telling and soul-baring. It’s the tentative (anti) romance for 21st century London life and it is, quite simply, magnificent."
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard (five stars)
Beginning Tickets are available now.