Culture: Theatre

Beige Recommends: Beautiful Thing

 Beautiful Thing

When Jonathan Harvey’s play Beautiful Thing opened at The Bush Theatre in 1993 times were a lot tougher for gay people. Civil partnerships, let alone gay marriage, were little more than a dream and prejudice was rife. Harvey’s depiction of two 16 year old boys falling in love on a Thamesmead council estate was all the more daring because the homosexual age of consent at the time was 21.

Fast forward 20 years and gay people live in a very different era and yet this anniversary production of the play shows that Harvey’s urban fairy tale remains as fresh as ever.

As the dulcet tones of Mamma Cass fill the auditorium, we’re introduced to 35-year old single mother, Sandra, and her son Jamie. They’re joined by neighbouring boy, Ste, and their friend, the Mamma Cass obsessed, Leah.

The first act of the play moves slowly as we’re introduced to Sandra and Jamie’s tough, inner city world. Suranne Jones is well cast as the earthy Sandra, delivering Harvey’s witty dialogue with impeccable timing, while demonstrating a fierce love for her son.

Jake Davies as Jamie and Danny-Boy Hatchard as Ste are remarkable. Their scenes in the second act, as they tentatively explore their feelings for one another, are truly beautiful and are subtly directed by Nikolai Foster who brings out the tender heart of the piece.

In 1993 the play was ahead of its time in presenting a gay relationship as being totally normal. There’s a naturalness to the dialogue that brings the young lovers together, and a raw pragmatism to Sandra’s acceptance of her son. The message – that love is universal, regardless of sexuality and gender – is just as poignant today.

But Beautiful Thing’s real charm is its evocation of a brittle type of innocence – that fleeting moment of youth where everything seems possible – a lost moment when we were both at our most vulnerable, but also at our strongest. At a time when so much is made of self-destructive hedonism in the gay community, it’s refreshing and inspiring to be reminded of how we all started out and, ultimately, how simple love can be. Harvey’s skill is to have captured this so eloquently.

Beautiful Thing is at The Arts Theatre until 25 May

Words: Alex Hopkins

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