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Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

Joan Davies likes it lovely on the stage

Published on November 23rd 2011.


Beautiful Thing, Royal Exchange, Reviewed

BEAUTIFUL THING is rather a beautiful little play. Written by Jonathan Harvey nearly twenty years ago, premièred by London’s Bush Theatre and filmed by Channel 4, it’s been casting its magic around the world- from Oldham to Shanghai.  

Beautiful Thing is ultimately joyous. It’s a celebration of life, love, taking chances and being yourself.  

The Royal Exchange’s production is the first major performance of the play for five years, and the first ever in-the-round. It takes us to the claustrophobic confines of a cramped south London council estate, where nobody’s private business is private and where personal insecurities are played out at full volume and in full view of neighbours.  

The play focuses on the difficult years surrounding adolescence, when lust and love first excite and mingle, when one’s own self-image inclines to fragility, and it seems that a single mistake can tar a lifetime.  Harvey wrote the play at the age of twenty-four and his empathy of those years and those experiences bring a realistic vibrancy to the writing.   

Three troubled teenagers, and a mother and her latest boyfriend, make up a tight cast.  One of the teens, Jamie, grows in confidence as his relationships progress. Played by Matthew Tennyson, he captures the uncertainties and delights of youth. Tommy Vine as Ste successfully portrays a troubled character, the talented sporting schoolboy only beaten by a violent home but restored by the prospect of love and acceptance.

Claire-Louise Cordwell, shines as Sandra, Jamie’s mother, a heart-of-gold, hard-working, pub manager. She despairs at her son’s school attendance and is desperate to renew her previous close relationship. Tara Hodge as troubled neighbour and Mama Cass fan, Leah, and Alex Price as Sandra’s boyfriend Tony, are excellent as contrasts to the main story, bringing glimpses of other worlds and other troubles. 

Director Sarah Francom and designer Liz Ascroft have placed the play in its original 1993 setting where it clearly belongs.  Manchester’s Gay and Lesbian Chorus make a fabulous contribution, and the focus on the music of Mama Cass adds a further layer of beauty.  It helps a little if you know something about Cagney and Lacey, and get the references to ‘Mary Beth.’ 

Beautiful Thing is ultimately joyous. It’s a celebration of life, love, taking chances and being yourself. These values triumph over the depressing arguments which dominate the opening scenes.  A view from today’s perspective, with the changes in attitudes and changes in law- lowering the age of consent for same sex relationships and introducing civil partnerships- is also largely celebratory.  Teenage uncertainty about sex and love won’t be legislated away and its inclusion doesn’t date the piece.   

Go.  You’ll leave smiling, and singing Mama Cass for days to come. 

BEAUTIFUL THING by Jonathan Harvey is performed at The Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 3 December 2011

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tblzebraNovember 23rd 2011.

I LOVED this play, it made me laugh aloud, although I left not smiling but in tears Joan. In a good way.

Go see it while you can.

David CitrineNovember 24th 2011.

Beautiful Thing is indeed a beautiful thing. It's still moving, thought-provoking and relevant twenty years on. Just a shame there were so many empty seats at the performance I attended. This play deserves to be seen.

Christine KilbyNovember 25th 2011.

I saw this with two male gay friends shortly after it opened. One loved it, one found it tedious. I loved it and still have the VHS Film Four version because I think it is such a wonderful, touching, hopeful story. People forget that there is still a great deal of prejudice around homosexuality. The play clearly points out the difficulties of having the courage to be yourself in an inward looking community and where there is little privacy. I may go to see it again if possible - highly recommended.

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