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7th November 2023

Beautiful Thing review: An urban, coming-of-age love story

This rendition of Beautiful Thing is a successful revival – Jonathan Harvey’s story is wonderfully tender, certainly withstanding the test of time
Beautiful Thing review: An urban, coming-of-age love story
Credit: The Other Richard @ HOME

Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey is an urban, coming-of-age love story centring around Jamie (Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran) and Ste (Raphael Akuwudike).

Upon entering Theatre One at HOME Manchester for its 30th anniversary revival, I was immediately struck by the very realistic set, depicting a South London estate. The stark concrete walls, with wires snaking around the scene, combined with a television aerial coated with a yellow graffiti smiley face, immediately set the tone of this play taking place in a disadvantaged area.

Right off the bat, the energy of the younger members of the cast made their performances as teenagers very believable. Scarlett Rayner, as Leah, has to be commended especially for this, the vibrancy in her execution of an incredibly cheeky yet vulnerable character never faltered. She was particularly impressive in the more emotionally fraught scenes, chiefly the moment Leah asks the boys to hit her over the head in the hope that her voice might change like her idol’s, Mamma Cass’ did and the scene where Leah has a bad acid trip. Her delivery of the line “I wanted it to change,” was powerful and evoked a lot of my sympathy.

Tony (Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge) never quite had the laid-back eccentricity I wanted from him, he was rather stilted. The star of the show for me however was Sandra (Shvorne Marks), a fierce mother, who despite her sharp tongue, is fondly protective of all the children, including Leah (who she spends most of the play insulting). Marks’ chemistry with every performer is evident and especially brilliant is her back-and-forth with Rayner. Chuckling from the audience could be heard often due to their perfect delivery of the witty one-liners that this play is littered with.

The main letdown for me in this revival of Beautiful Thing was the relationship between Ste and Jamie; the build-up of tension between the two actors never went far enough for their romance to be truly convincing. I think this was down to the pace of the show.

Despite it improving in the second half, I felt that some of the delivery was rushed, leaving the affectionate moments slightly flat and often causing me to lose bits of dialogue. This also could well be because Owokoniran joined the show late after Joshua Asaré (who was initially announced to play Jamie) had to drop out. Later on in the tour, there may be more chemistry between the two lads as it is often something that develops over time.

There is violence permeating throughout Beautiful Thing. While the off-stage abuse that Ste endures from his father left the audience sympathetic and added to the tenderness of his relationship with Jamie, the violence between Sandra and Jamie ended up looking very slapstick. Although for me, this detracted from a very well-developed relationship between Jamie and his mother, it thankfully did not marr the moment he came out to her. For me, this scene was the most poignant of them all, with Jamie’s turmoil at telling his mother of his new relationship being relatable for all young LGBTQ+ people.

Overall though, this is an accomplished revival. The comedic moments especially, were very entertaining and Jonathan Harvey’s story is wonderfully tender, certainly withstanding the test of time. The ending especially, as Ste and Jamie dance to ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’, with Sandra and Leah joining in, their animosity forgotten, is beautiful. Beautiful Thing is a play that is certainly worth seeing and continues to be very relevant now.

Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey stays with HOME Theatre until November 11 2023, when the tour unfortunately ends.

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