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Beautiful Thing (Tour)

The 20th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey's play receives another outing

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Charlie Brooks as Sandra in Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing is a really straightforward love story. Nobody dies, nobody is cheated on, and there are no crossed stars in this relationship. What makes this play remarkable is the sheer normality of it. It has been 20 years since the play first hit the stage and whilst attitudes may have become more open, Beautiful Thing remains a healthy reminder of just how simple love can be.

Director Nikolai Foster has done a wonderful job in this 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey's urban fairytale. The play depicts the relationship of Ste (short for Steven) and Jamie (Thomas Law and Sam Jackson), two adolescents coming to terms with their sexuality in a grimy east London estate where it's not just eyebrows that might be raised at them.

With brilliant performances all round, the narrative almost fades into the background. The Thamesmead estate is peppered with fiery (if predictable) characters who make up the backdrop to the boys' relationship. Charlie Brooks (of EastEnders fame) does a fantastic job playing chain-smoking slapper-cum-single mother Sandra. Eccentricity rolls in waves off of Gerard McCarthy as Tony the floppy haired painter and Vanessa Babirye as Leah, the boys' 'bad influence' school-dropout mate.

The play is heavily contextually grounded in the 90s - who on earth are East 17? - and this does cause a little disconnect. There is also a bizarre acid trip right in the middle which seems to be there purely to stop the play getting too deep. Stuck on top of a block of flats, there isn't a lot you can do to mix things up and I suppose this will have to do. It does give the brilliant Babirye a chance to overact to the max, bringing humour to the intermittent bouts of crying from angsty teens.

Seeing an era captured so perfectly in the script and flowing so fluidly through the energy of the characters is what makes this play worth seeing. It isn't so shocking in 2015, but the cast make up a rich and vibrant tableaux of what the 90s was like for working class people. What is fresh about the play is seeing just how far we have come as a society.

For all the central action it never feels like a 'gay play', intent on pushing an agenda of acceptance. Granted, that agenda doesn't need to be pushed quite as much as it may have done in 1992 when the play was written, but even so there are no overtones of pretentious statement-making here. It's only love after all. The tension and tenderness with which Jamie and Ste conduct their relationship is the heartwarming centerpiece of an utterly striking play.

Beautiful Thing is at Nottingham Playhouse until 9 May, before touring to Guildford, Northampton, Leicester, London, Cardiff and Brighton

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