Reviewed by Catherine Joyce
Last night (6 November 2018) we went to the opening night of Beautiful Thing at The Dukes in Lancaster. The play has been produced by Tobacco Factory Theatres, a company who produce excellent theatre in unique and intimate spaces. On it’s 25th anniversary, Beautiful Thing, written by Jonathan Harvey, has been brought to The Dukes and its round theatre which is the perfect location for this production.
The play tells the story of Jamie and Ste, who both live on a council estate in London. The boys are friends and the play is a coming of age drama highlighting their growing feelings for each other and how they come to terms with their sexuality and burgeoning love for each other. Jamie, an introverted young man, played by Ted Reilly, isn’t keen on school and is bullied because he doesn’t like football. As a consequence he bunks off school and spends his time hanging about with next door neighbour Leah who is home schooled after being expelled. Jamie’s mum doesn’t like Leah as she thinks she is a bad influence on her son. Ste, played by Tristan Waterson, is much more interested in school, especially sports and hopes to work in the local sports centre once he leaves. Unfortunately home life for Ste isn’t too good, he lives with an alcoholic father and drug dealing brother and one night, after a beating, he spends the night at Ste’s house where the boys start exploring their sexuality and realise they are starting to fall for each other.
Whilst the two boys are the main focus of the story Jamie’s mum, Sandra, played by Phoebe Thomas, is central to the plot, she’s a hard working barmaid who does her best for her son and hopes that one day she will be able to run her own pub and move away from the estate. At first she struggles to understand why Jamie dislikes school but once she learns the truth we see a softer side to her as she accepts her son for who he is.
The play is very firmly set in the 1990’s and 90’s themes were evident throughout from the clothes that the cast wore including a Kangol bucket hat that was a spot-on reminder of the era to the music used between each scene. Re-worked versions of contemporary hits were performed whilst the cast changed their positions and were cleverly chosen with lyrics matching the themes covered in the play.
The cast were excellent, playing their parts well and maintaining their London accents for the whole of the performance.
What didn’t work quite as well was the community choir, which took to the stage at the start of each half of the play. Whilst the songs were relevant to the era, the performance was just a little flat. Despite filling the stage area they didn’t really have much presence, a little more projection and volume would have helped massively.
We really enjoyed this play, it’s one that we were not familiar with and was a great reminder of how much attitudes towards gay people have changed in just a few years. It is a touching play about young love and the pressures faced by teenagers as they work out who they are and how they’re going to live their lives. To many young people these days, homosexuality is quite normal, and I wonder how many of the younger members of the audience quite realised just how much society’s views have changed over the last 25 years?
Tickets cost from £15.50 to £17.50 (booking fees may apply).
Beautiful Thing is at The Dukes in Lancaster from 6-10 November 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.dukes-lancaster.org or call the box office on 01524 598500.
The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 1QE | 01524 598500