REVIEW – Beautiful Thing (The Lowry)

Thomas Law & Sam Jackson © Anton Belmonte
Thomas Law & Sam Jackson © Anton Belmonte
Date: 13 april 2015
Upstaged rating: 

Jonathan Harvey wrote Beautiful Thing when he was just 24 years old. The production first premiered in 1993 at the Bush Theatre and now this critically acclaimed award-winning play, directed by Nikolai Foster, returns to the stage at The Lowry.

Heated by the backdrop of a glorious summer, Beautiful Thing is an urban love story which captures how it feels to be a teenager, coming of age and the pangs of first love. Troubled teen Jamie (Sam Jackson) lives with his feisty mum, Sandra (Charlie Brooks) on a rundown council estate in South East London. When his neighbour and classmate Ste (Thomas Law) gets beaten so badly by his alcoholic father one night, Sandra suggests he stay with them and sleep ‘top-to-tail’ with Jamie.

Charlie Brooks’ comedy timing as the loud, brash, attention seeking Sandra is highly entertaining, particularly when all five characters are on stage together. Vanessa Babirye is outstanding in the role of Leah, the Mama Cass obsessed neighbour – she steals the show completely when she takes LSD, dresses up in Mama Cass attire and believes that she is the dead singer. And Sandra’s ‘artist’ boyfriend Tony (Gerard McCarthy) also puts in a superb performance as the latest in transient string of lovers.

Both actors, Sam Jackson and Thomas Law play the bedroom scenes with the right amount of teeny awkwardness. Jamie appears quite brave about his sexuality whereas Ste comes across as more vulnerable – their scenes together are well played with the right balance of fuzzy warmth and sexual tension.

Ben Cracknell’s balmy lighting design complements Colin Richmond’s gritty, urban set design, which includes a rising platform which offers itself as a bed and an outside air vent which swiftly transforms into a bedside table.

Jonathan Harvey’s writing is still immensely brilliant and still relevant; Nikolai Foster’s direction manages to bring out every nuance in the script and I found myself noticing elements that I hadn’t fully appreciated in any of the previous interpretations that I have seen. This production felt like a celebration and a salute to how far rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people have come over the last 20 years, and a recognition that we still have a fair way to go. It all stands to prove that this love story between two working class boys is still as beautiful and as powerful as when it was first written over two decades ago.

 Beautiful Thing is at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 18th April. There will be a post show Q & A with the cast on Thursday 16th April – hosted by Manchester Pride and chaired by British Actor and Writer Arthur Bostrom (‘Allo, Allo!). This event is free to ticket holders.

-Kristy Stott