Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Beautiful Thing - Royal Exchange Theatre - 12/11/11

Bit more formal than my usual style this one, but I was supposed to be writing it for a proper reviewing / writing opportunity that had come my way that has sadly fallen through. Oh well, never mind, when one door closes and all that......

Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, directed by Sarah Frankcom, is the latest offering from Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Set on a London housing estate in a hot summer in the early 90’s, it centres on two under 16 year old boys, Jamie, and Ste, gradually coming to terms with their sexuality and growing attraction for one another.

There is a lot to like in this production. The simple but effective set, and clever use of sound and lighting, conjures up the oppressiveness of the estate and the summer heat perfectly. The cast give some fabulous performances, the stand out one for me being Claire – Louise Cordwell as the tough but kind hearted single mum Sandra – sharp tongued and abrasive at times, but also displaying great compassion for others and a fierce love for her son no matter what. The scene that follows her discovery of her son’s sexuality and relationship with Ste is particularly powerful, as she struggles with her love for her son, and her fear of the implications of their situation for both Jamie and Ste.

The relationship between Jamie (Matthew Tennyson) and Ste (Tommy Vine) is affectionately portrayed, and Ste’s acceptance as normal of the violence regularly meted out by his family is particularly heart wrenching. Tara Hodge, as the sassy neighbour Leah, expelled from school and putting on an outwardly tough mask whilst actually having great depths of feeling for life, and Alex Price as Sandra’s artist boyfriend Tony and his awkward attempts to bond with Jamie, complete an excellent cast.

What’s nice about this play is that it doesn’t feel issue led, its about real people, with their own unique faults and strengths. At its heart is a simple story of life and love – a mother’s unconditional love for her son, her search for a loving relationship, fulfilling job and escape from the estate, Leah’s search for meaning in life through the songs of Mama Cass (with a little help from mind altering substances) and two young people discovering love for the first time.

The first act took time to get into its stride, as it established the various participants, and the character of Leah, whilst well portrayed, felt under –explored to me. Also the use of the choir, whilst providing a lovely ending to the play, was such a fleeting appearance, that it felt a little incongruous.

Overall though this was a heart-warming play, with realistic characters that you cared about, and it provided a nice contrast to the darkness of this season’s Royal Exchange productions that preceded it.

1 comment:

  1. Well they might not have needed/wanted your review, but at least we still get to enjoy your blogging!!