First seen at the Bush Theatre in 1993, Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing is an incredibly funny yet poignant depiction of two teenage boys as they come to terms with their sexuality. As relevant today as it was when it premiered, directed by Nikolai Foster, Beautiful Thing is a brilliantly scripted, unforgettable coming-of-age story with a soundtrack to match.
15-year-old football-hating Jamie skives games to spend his afternoon with expelled pupil Leah on the landing walkway outside their south London flats. Neighbour Ste, trying to escape his abusive father, grows closer to Jamie, and the pair eventually reveal their feelings for one another, despite the social stigma they have to face. Beautiful Thing is perhaps not as shocking for audiences today as it was for those who lived when Clause 28 still was to be repealed, but the journey for gay equality is far from over, ensuring the play is still remarkable. Nevertheless the play’s focus does not necessarily seem to be on homosexuality, but instead tackles the ever-prevalent themes of domestic violence, complicated family relationships and the transition from childhood to adulthood.
At the forefront of the cast of five is Suranne Jones, best known for Coronation Street and more recently ITV drama Scott & Bailey, who does not disappoint. Her performance as Sandra, Jamie’s feisty yet supportive mother, is real and unforced, especially at moments of perfectly timed humour as she relishes her one-liners. But her most powerful scenes have to be those shared with Jamie, revealing her character’s deeper maternal instincts, culminating in Jamie coming out to his mum in a 1am heart-to-heart. Always believable, Jones conveyed Sandra’s ambition and love for her son subtly, and their relationship was consistently relatable and honest.
Oliver Farnworth successfully balanced pretentiousness with the real goodness of Tony, Sandra’s artist boyfriend, offering a refreshing and awkward comic relief throughout. Mama Cass fanatic Leah, played by Zaraah Abrahamas, cleverly delivers a strength and defiance without betraying a whiny immaturity that dims towards the end, perhaps showing a glimpse of what she has the ability to become.
However, the true stars of Beautiful Thing are up-and-coming actors Jake Davies and Dannyboy Hatchard as Jamie and Ste respectively. Hatchard’s initial distance and gruffness gave an impressive contrast to Davies’s heart-melting shyness; together they create a wonderful underlying sense of anticipation and hope as they talk deep into the night sharing a tiny single bed. With vulnerability and innocence, and a little Body Shop peppermint foot cream, the pair’s genuine relationship and onstage chemistry makes Beautiful Thing the charming success that it is.
Beautiful Thing is playing at the Arts Theatre until 25 May before touring to Liverpool, Leeds and Brighton. For more information and tickets, see the Beautiful Thing website.