Middle – Footnotes
The Footnotes to our episode on Middle include the significance of Crouch End, the sources of our personal life goals, and what the musical selections in the play signal.
Not listened to the episode yet? You’ll find it here.
As David and I discussed during our conversation, he identifies very specific georaphic locations within the play. The references to location are shorthand signifiers of class distinctions. For example Maggie tells a poignant story of going to visit a university friend who lives in Crouch End in north London. Her friend has had more success in her chosen career than Maggie, and when Maggie describes sitting in an upmarket cafe or gazing in the window of a fashionable boutique in Crouch End, we feel the envy and self-loathing that comes with her sense that she does not belong in this social setting.
Crouch End also features in Beginning. Laura’s flat is there, and for Danny, who is from Essex, her owning a flat in this area represents wealth and success that he can never imagine attaining. He also feels uncomfortable and discouraged about the implicit social gap between them.
“What did you want?”
One of the most piercing questions voiced in the play – what did they originally want for their lives?
As more time goes under the bridge we’re inclined to begin to reflect on how our lives have turned out compared with our youthful aspirations or vision.
How does my life measure up to what I imagined or hoped it would be?
But where do our life goals come from in the first place? What are the most common aspirations and yardsticks that we choose to measure ourselves by? A random list of the most common could include:
– Material possessions as a signifier of that
– Economic security
– Career achievements – recognition, status, respect
– Love and Romance
– Marriage and family
– Creative application or achievement
– Friends, social life
We talked in our conversation about how class can inform our expectations for our life. We build our own life plans based on the social models that prevail in our social environment, which have standard paradigms of achievement: upward career progression, romantic love, a life-long happy marriage, a house of our own, a family etc. And we build narratives to explain and evaluate our progress for the goals we’ve chosen as primary. The images of the ideal are all around us, so for most people it’s almost impossible not to feel as if we have not measured up. It’s not only how we compare with others that may cause us anxiety, but probably most importantly how we measure up to our own expectations. These are deeply personal and relative, and are all inevitably informed by where we start from.
Music and dance
David referred to the fact that music is a common constituent of both Beginning and Middle. Before the curtain rises for the National Theatre production of Middle, the song that is playing in the auditorium is Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners. Although this is not specified in the published text, the choice is not accidental. The song is an upbeat, dance-floor filler; a staple of wedding receptions which serves as a marker for the sexual energy and hope at the start of a relationship.
In the middle of the play, Gary puts on ‘their song’, My Lover’s Prayer by Otis Redding, in an attempt to bring Maggie back to the love they have shared. It is literally Gary’s prayer of course, and when Otis sings “It can’t be too serious we can’t talk it over” he expresses Gary’s hope that their problems can be solved by the very talk they are trying to have. As Gary begins to dance toward Maggie in a wonderfully awkward “Dad dance” style, it echoes a similar moment in Beginning when Danny starts to dance to try to kick start his seduction of Laura. Gary’s performance is another moment of attempted seduction in a way, albeit emotional rather than literal, and in very different circumstances. His awkward display has the same dramatic effect of being both helplessly funny and poignant, because like Danny’s, his gesture is somewhat desperate and seems likely to fail.
As the house lights came up in the NT auditorium after the end of Middle, the Magic Numbers’ song “Forever Lost” rings out: “Cause I’m forever lost/Looks like it all went wrong/What am I to do?/What am I to do?”. Maggie and Gary do no know what they will do. They’ve certainly come on a journey from the bright confidence of “Come on Eileen”, though perhaps there is dramatic irony in the youthful delarations in that lyric: “These people round here/Wear beatdown eyes sunk in smoke-dried face/So resigned to what their fate is/But no not us (no never)/No not us (no never)/We are too young and clever.”
Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.
David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.
Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.