In Natalie Wilson's intelligent new production for Nottingham Playhouse, Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing has proved itself once again to be a very beautiful thing indeed - a wistfully written piece of theatre commenting on the wonders of young love, new love, old love and a lot in between.
The story transports us to the Big Smoke (well, Thamesmead to be exact) and designer Emma Donovan's anonymous concrete estate with its low-rise flat walkway/balcony and three facing thresholds. It's the ideal setting for splif-smoking chats, football of sorts, madness after midnight and a battered apartment door - lovingly restored by the sweet young Jamie (Craig Vye) at No 26 - that mirrors the battered body and scarred soul of its poor inhabitant, Ste (Elliot Jordan).
Despite the trials that the characters face, Beautiful Thing resonates hope and happiness. Not just in terms of Jamie and Ste's intimacy but also in the strength of the mother-son bonds and 'love thy neighbour' ideals. Beneath the surface aggro and the barrage of insults that fly back and forth like a ping-pong ball on speed, there's a real endearment shared between all the characters.
And apparently between the company members as well, none of whom indulge in any attempts to upstage their fellows. The entire cast are first rate, with each actor complimenting the others beautifully. The onstage passion between Vye and Jordan, particularly in their first kiss scene, is nothing short of electric.
Elsewhere, Tom Oldham's hilarious performance as wannabe working-class Tony fits uncomfortably well with the split-like personality of Julie Riley's outstanding Sandra. And Petra Letang's loveable yet leery Leah, bordering deliciously on the un-PC, appears consumed by her fantasy world in which she co-exists with Mama Cass, whose sultry voice graces the play's wonderful soundtrack.
Beautiful Thing has been dubbed an "urban fairytale" but I don't entirely agree with that label. A fairytale carries with it mythical connotations of wishes that never (or hardly ever) come true. Moving us in all directions, it seems to me that Harvey's brilliant play is nothing if not utterly real and honest. It should by everyone, old and young, gay and straight.
- Louise Record (reviewed at the Nottingham Playhouse)