A refreshing cast of young talent feature in Beautiful Thing, a story, written by Jonathan Harvey, centred on the pain and the hardship of getting on, and growing up. The play has a small cast of only five characters (you almost forget the small size of the cast) living on a council estate in London. The storyline surrounds 15-year-old, Jamie (Sam Jackson), his neighbour Ste (Thomas Law), and their blossoming romance.
The 2015 revision of the play is just that, written over twenty years ago, director Nikolai Foster had the challenging task of revisiting this popular play, attempting to keep it true to its original message whilst allowing it to be relatable to a 2015 audience. The themes and conversations (exploring your sexuality, the complications of family relationships and finding out who you are, to name but a few) are still current which allows us to completely indulge and feel empathetic for the characters on stage.
The play brilliantly infuses humour, romance and violence. The characters are completely stripped down, and no unattractive character trait goes unhidden. Their character complexities are fully displayed to the audience, which shows they are real and authentic. They are completely believable. For instance, Charlie Brooks plays the outrageously catty and outgoing Sandra who is the mother of Jamie. She has a sudden aggressive outburst, resulting in attacking Jamie. Despite the initial shock of the situation, it actually illustrates the honesty and fragility of this woman, battling her own insecurities. Despite the front she puts on, dressing in short dresses and big heels, she shows this other side being one of love and vulnerability. This story, regardless of its simple storyline, has complexities in abundance.
Jamie appears to come to terms with his sexuality a lot easier than that of Ste. Ste aspires to work in the local sports centre, has a keen interest in football, and has gained the attention of neighbour Leah (Vanessa Babirye). Jamie, on the other hand, is the story of the outsider. He feels alienated and thinks his mother is disappointed in him because of his difference. He also fears she thinks he is a ‘weirdo’. After Ste’s difficult relationship with his abusive father reaches its peak, he starts to spend many evenings with Jamie and Sandra. Jamie and Ste gradually succumb to their feelings for one another, and they begin to explore their sexuality. As well as the unity of Jamie and Ste, Jamie and Sandra’s relationship is more positive after Jamie’s revelation about his sexuality.
The characters all seem to demonstrate a real feistiness. They are not afraid to speak their minds, verbally abuse each other and ask difficult questions. Sandra and young neighbour, Leah’s relationship is particularly difficult, and it is obvious from the beginning that most of the catty comments are going to be exchanged between them. Aside from the humorous ‘slag’ and ‘cow’ remarks, however, there seems to be a darker side of this relationship. Sandra shockingly tries to strangle Leah with a hose-pipe, after she discovers Leah has been gossiping about her. But, when the play reaches its endpoint, and seeing the togetherness of Ste and Jamie, they put their differences aside, and even their relationship seems to end positively. The play concludes with Jamie and Ste; Leah and Sandra, in couples dancing together.
In a word of criticism, however, the dialogue could have been enunciated a little better, and conversations seemed a little quick to keep up with at times. This being said, the dialogue remains true to the tone of the Londoners and the play. To end on a positive note, this play is highly optimistic. It is touching, light-hearted and immensely enjoyable throughout. The set, the songs and the characters completely in-capture the urban London setting and takes you into this world and the world of the troubled characters.