Review By Rosie Niven
Love can be a beautiful thing, can’t it? Especially the kind of love you see in movies, where it feels like each hurdle the lovers face is manageable and nothing ends in tragedy. Where we simply get to watch them fall deeply in love. Unfortunately, this is a narrative that is not often awarded to queer stories - many, if not all of our theatrical narratives are riddled with tragedies and betrayals. LGBTQ+ audiences have been waiting for their very own beautiful thing.
Luckily for us, Johnathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing makes its way to New Theatre this month, just in time for the Mardi Gras Festival. The play invites you into a heart-warming coming-of-age story that gives us the uplifting narrative we’ve been waiting for, and at its roots is a well-written and beautiful love story.
At the heart of this love story are Jamie (Will Manton) and Ste (Bayley Predergast), two teenage boys from the same housing estate and school, but dealing with vastly different issues. Jamie is shy, and often skips school to avoid his bullies, while Ste stays at school to avoid his alcoholic abusive father. When Ste’s father beats him after another drunken night, Jamie’s mum invites him to stay the night. After some chat about Hello! Magazine and peppermint foot lotion, the boys quickly grow close in Jamie’s single bed. What follows is a struggle as the two attempt to understand how they feel about each other, and what it means for them to love another man at a time when it’s not safe for them to do so.
The chemistry between Manton and Predergast is palpable, and from the audible reactions from the audience, those in the theatre are hooked on this budding romance. Without giving too much of the story away, it’s refreshing to finally see a queer narrative that has a happy ending.
Director Mark G Nagle has cast a talented troupe of actors that slip into the East London accents like a second skin, and bounce off each other with fantastic energy that makes this more than 2 hour-long play slip by quickly. Caspar Hardaker delights as the out of his depth middle-class lover, Hannah Zaslawski commands the audience with her petulant yet lovable Leah, and Julia Kennedy Scott finds the fine line between a woman hardened by life and a mother who loves her son unconditionally. Although there are moments when the actors veer into over-exaggeration with their performances, and their physicality is sometimes taken too far beyond the reality of the scene, the cast is engaging and fill the space with ease. Their comfort with comedy is clear, and the natural hilarity the script allows flows freely from this ensemble.
Beautiful Thing was written nearly 30 years ago, but the story is timeless. When the play was written, Margaret Thatcher had made it illegal to promote homosexuality in schools, the age of consent for gay sex in the UK was 21 (as opposed to 16 for heterosexual pairings), and same-sex marriage felt like a far off pipe dream. But the fear that these boys have about being ‘out and proud’ is still so relevant, even in 2021. This is a refreshing story for the queer community, but also a story for anyone that loves to see people fall in love, because watching from the audience feels intimate and beautiful.
Photo Credit: Bob Seary