'It means everything': Playwright David Eldridge on going back to his roots

David Eldridge

David Eldridge's play Beginning begins at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch on September 3. - Credit: Claire McNamee

As playwright David Eldridge prepares for the opening night of Beginning at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, he says it feels like a “gorgeous homecoming”. 

His play first premiered at the National Theatre in 2017, before making its way to the West End in 2018. 

Now Queen's is set to host a revival of the original production a stone’s throw away from protagonist Danny's home. 

David explained: “Because he comes from Upminster Bridge, down the road from the theatre, there’s a real sense of rightness. 

“It’s lovely when you present a play in the place where it is set, when the audience know road names and locations.” 

The show follows Laura, played by Amanda Ryan, and Danny (Simon Darwen), as they get to know one another in the early hours of the morning after Laura’s house party. 

Simon Darwen, Amanda Ryan

Simon Darwen and Amanda Ryan star in the revival of Beginning at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch - Credit: Manuel Harlan

It marries two important places in the playwright's life; Crouch End, near where he lives now, and Romford, where he grew up. 

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He fondly recalls doing work experience at Queen’s after finishing school, aged 18.  

“I spent a lot of time cleaning out the props store”, David laughed. 

“I seemed to be a bit of a nuisance at first, but then they seemed happy to have someone helping out.” 

David is proud of his working-class roots - his father was a shoemaker and sometimes traded at Romford Market. 

When a teacher had told his parents that they should try to get the “bright” pupil into an independent school, David said they thought it was ridiculous. 

However, he ended up with a scholarship to attend Brentwood School.

“It was quite odd to be a public schoolboy by day and then come home to Collier Row," David said.

“I worked at Romford Market as a teenager, and after my shift I would go and get changed into my posh school uniform.” 

Years on, he still gets frustrated about the way his hometown is presented in the media. 

“I’m from a blue-collar area, and characters from there often get portrayed in running TV dramas and nothing else," he explained.

“It's fair to say I’m the Guardian reader in my family, and the area is very Conservative. 

“But although my politics are to the left, I don’t like the way my world is often mocked and misrepresented, showing people as really ignorant and right wing. 

“I really hate that - they're talking about my family. 

“People are complex in their views, and just have a different way of seeing the world.” 

David's play In Basildon, which premiered at the Royal Court before being revived at Queen’s by Doug Rintoul, was written in a “deliberately grand way”. 

“The Royal Court was really fantastic, but sometimes the audience’s laughter could be unkind about the working-class characters,” he said. 

“Seven years later when it showed in Hornchurch, there was none of that.” 

Looking ahead to the revival of Beginning, which begins early next month, David said he can't wait to see the audience take their seats. 

Amanda Ryan

Beginning is one long scene, set in real time - Credit: Manuel Harlan

“It means everything that people are going back into the theatre,” he said. 

“The innovations, like live-streaming, during lockdown have been amazing, but being together in a room makes it special. 

“That's particularly poignant with Beginning, as the play is one continuous scene, played in real time - no scene changes. 

“I want the audience to get lost in a shared experience with the characters.” 

Like much of the theatre industry, David spent lockdown at home in Haringay Ladder with his three sons aged nine, three and nine months.  

Despite his best efforts, he hasn’t been back to the theatre himself yet. 

Simon Darwen, Amanda Ryan

Danny (Simon Darwen) is from Upminster Bridge, and love interest Laura (Amanda Ryan) lives in Crouch End - Credit: Manuel Harlan

“I think the first show I see might well be my own,” he said. 

“I’m a season ticket holder at West Ham, and when I recently went to a match, it was incredible and emotional to all be back together. 

“I'm sure when I go to the first performance of Beginning that will be similarly moving.” 

Beginning is on at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch from September 3 to 18.