Life for Beginners, Theatre 503, London


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The Independent Culture

Tim Roseman and Paul Robinson kick off their last season as joint artistic directors of Theatre 503 (Robinson continuing solo) with a quirky, heartening collective project that brings together writers who have thrived at this address during their regime and that, in a fittingly piquant way, deals with people tentatively reaching for a new start in life.

People, and pre-people. The odd couples in this piece – which is composed of individually authored, interwoven strands and is now unveiled in a spry, charming production by the two co-directors – include a Sperm and an Egg (Alex Beckett and Katie McGuinness).

They chat one another up suspiciously in Alice Birch’s droll vision of a kind of mutual vetting agency where there is, of necessity, a no-touch policy and much nervous promise-making (“Yes, I’ll figure out the depleting fish stocks and then I’ll cure Aids”).

At the other end of the scale, in Ben Ellis’s funny and affecting sequence, the long-widowed Tony (Mark Wingett) bites the bullet on his 60th birthday and reads the letter that his younger self wrote to him to be opened on that auspicious occasion. To the disgust of his possessive lawyer- daughter, it spurs him into a blind date (embarrassing code question: “How do you spell Proust?”) and the joyous submergence in an autumnal romance with Jacqueline King’s radiantly shrewd and emotionally generous fellow-late-starter.

In between, with some incisive comic doubling by the actors, there’s Matt Hartley’s lovely, daffy-cum-troubling take on teenage love awkwardly awakening on a city farm (Zara Tempest- Walters as a girl with rage issues and Edward Hancock as a wide-eyed innocent misled by lad mags are both enchanting) and Kate Sissons is spot on as a blonde bimbo who pines to measure up to her husband’s porn by getting a “Sunday Sport-big” boob job (a wistful male friend asks why the husband doesn’t just get a hand-reduction) in Rex Obano’s caustic swipe at tabloidand- Jeremy Kyle-style culture.

At one point in the evening, a character makes a Freudian slip and blurts out “clitoris” rather than “chrysalis”. It’s a pointed, meaningful error in a show where magical transformations are eventually brought about by a benign plague of butterflies, released in revenge from a lab in Lizzie Nunnery’s segment about a married Nietzschean scientist in search of a Super Baby without strings from his pregnant assistant. This could have been a fey unifying device; instead, it takes flight. Recommended.

To 29 September (020 7978 7040)