Set among a backdrop of a South East London council estate Beautiful Thing is a sweet, funny and at times poignant love story between 2 teenage boys, Jamie and Ste who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. The urban tale follows the pair as they turn from neighbour and classmate to lovers, facing the reactions of loved ones along the way.
It’s been 20 years since writer Jonathan Harvey penned Beautiful Thing but the play’s themes seem as relevant today as they were back then and still strike a cord in the hearts of those watching it.
Stars such as Andrew Garfield, Suranne Jones and Jonny Lee Miller have all taken on the lead roles over the years and this run at The Lowry sees former soap stars Charlie Brooks (Eastenders’ Janine), Gerard McCarthy (Hollyoaks’ Kris) and Thomas Law (Eastenders Peter Beale) as part of the new line up.
Brooks is every inch the brash, potty mouthed Mother Sandra, delivering Harvey’s cutting edge comic dialogue with delight.
“A leopard never changes its spots and a slapper never changes her knickers.”
Brooks comes across half Pat Butcher and half Alison Steadman as she holds the gaze of the audience and puts in a fine performance in this gem of a role for a female actress. Thomas Law and Sam Jackson as Ste and Jamie create an awkward tension that sees them wrestle with their emotions and has the audience willing for their happy ending.
Director Nikolai Foster has forged out a production which has a lot of pace but still allows for moments where the action is reined back in, heightening the more darker scenes where Sandra and Jamie come to blows and Ste breaks down after a beating from his Dad.
McCarthy could have really let himself go in the role of Sandra’s toyboy Tony but instead of going overboard on the usual hippy portrayal of the character he prefers to give Tony more of a ‘toff’ edge, which doesn’t seem to work here. Vanessa Babirye as Mama Cass obsessed next door neighbour Leah also could have taken her role to the next level making the most of Harvey’s gift of witty one liners. The pair redeem themselves in a lovely scene near the end where Leah has an acid Trip and thinks she’s the reincarnation of the Mama’s and Papa’s singer and Tony steps in to ‘help’ her.
Having seen previous productions of Beautiful Thing at The Royal Exchange and the Bolton Octagon, The Lowry’s offering in the smaller Quays Theatre meant the intimacy of the play was still maintained despite it not being acted out in the round. Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond provides some great attention to detail with the 90s clobber and a bed that comes out of the floor as if David Copperfield conjured it up.
Take note music lovers, get there before the show starts and you are treated to some cracking sounds from the decade which will leave you all nostalgic for the days of Erasure and East 17 – plus I defy you not to leave humming Mama’s and Papa’s tunes searching for their greatest hits on Spotify.
A well-written play and a production which won’t fail to have you laugh and cry in equal measure.
Runs at The Lowry until 18th April.