‘Write what you know,’ they said, and the similarities between New Beginnings and The Inbetweeners hit you in the face as soon as the lights come up on the Burton Taylor. Will McKenzie has been replaced by Boy, who is clever but tragically uncool. The off-screen soliloquys are replaced by onstage asides, with Boy looking straight into the spotlight and giving us his unique view of adolescence. He feels alienated, has low-level family problems and finds his very own Fit Lindsay to pine after on his first day of school. The play is written by Oxford Imp and fresher Dominic O’Keefe, whose script played it safe for the most part but had flashes of brilliance.
The frame is simple: one day, several characters, school as you know it. The Inbetweeners is watchable because, essentially, it’s people you don’t know doing things you do know. New Beginnings focuses on people you do know doing things you know a little too well. However, the command of language is beautiful and Boy has a well thought-out and distinctive voice. His lines are hard to deliver because they’re steeped in rhetoric, with rhyme and wordplay and tricolons that trip over each other. The jokes are sometimes thin but the good bits glow: when Boy’s mum comes to school with his packed lunch to embarrass him, the situation is trite but their dynamic is perfect. Maddy Herbert’s acting was a pleasure to listen to; Nathan Ellis should be commended for his scope of accent and mannerism.
Every now and then, things got surreal, and we found ourselves wrong-footed. At one point, dialogue stopped and two characters sat on stage unaware of each other. Boy was in school, his grandma was at the bingo hall; they each recited verses about the tedium of their lives. The audience was uncomfortable and disoriented, until the verses became chant-like and we understood what was happening and where we were in the story and began to enjoy it. Another moment came as Boy slept, and three characters came in a dream: an army officer, a toddler and his own brain. The army man was satisfyingly unrelated to anything, the brain was exquisitely scripted. Brief musical interlude made the play slightly absurd and far more memorable. This play should have stuck to what it didn’t know, because the original bits were a joy to watch.
** 2 STARS