It is a rare thing, even in 2015, to come across a play involving homosexuality that isn’t specifically about homosexuality. Not only on stage, but also on television, in film and in literature, homosexual characters are too often there because they are homosexual, and their storylines and characterisation cannot seem to develop beyond their sexual preferences. It is utterly refreshing, therefore, that Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing is an urban love story that just happens to be about a gay couple.
Beautiful Thing is a play that manages to challenge cliché in the most un-cliché of ways.
Said couple are Jamie and Ste, two fifteen year-olds who live next door to each other on a council estate in Thamesmead (successfully created in Colin Richmond’s bleak, graffitied designs). Jamie, an introvert who hates sports, lives with his mother, who dreams of running her own pub, whilst Ste, sport-mad, lives with his drug-dealing brother and abusive father. A talented cast of five brings this witty and frequently touching play to life on the Nottingham Playhouse stage under the skilled direction of Nikolai Foster, well-known for his musicals but here proving that he is equally adept at handling more intimate pieces. Skins’ Sam Jackson, as Jamie, and Eastenders’ Thomas Law, as Ste, are excellent in portraying both the joy and the fear of two young boys realising their feelings for one another.
Harvey’s superb script hints at the societal prejudice that the boys will inevitably face
Foster has pitched their relationship beautifully: it is neither too tentative nor too brash, and a scene in which Ste shows Jamie the bruises his father has inflicted upon him is particularly well-done. First performed in 1993, when England was recovering from Thatcher’s government and still in the midst of the AIDS crisis, Harvey’s superb script hints at the societal prejudice that the boys will inevitably face: words such as “queer”, so politically incorrect twenty years on, are used frequently by the boys and Jamie’s mother, Sandra (a scene-stealing performance from Eastenders’ Charlie Brooks). There is also fine support from Vanessa Babirye as the eccentric neighbour, Leah, and Gerard McCarthy as Sandra’s hapless boyfriend, Tony.
Beautiful Thing is a play that manages to challenge cliché in the most un-cliché of ways. Jamie, Ste and their allies fight ignorance and prejudice not with anger- not even with protests- but with their love for one another. The boys’ relationship may not last, but Jonathan Harvey’s message still resonates as strongly as it did twenty years ago.
Laura Jayne Bateman
‘Beautiful Thing’ is running till Saturday 9th May. For more information, see here
Images credited to Anton Belmonte