Beautiful Thing opened with undeniable style (Gok-Wan was there for god’s sake, could it have been otherwise?). There was paparazzi, red carpet, drinks, bling and all; we felt very fortunate to be ushered through the theatre doors.
The play, written by Jonathan Harvey, first opened in 1993 to great acclaim (it won its author an Olivier Award nomination and the John Whiting Award), and has since been turned into Channel 4 film; this season celebrates its 20th anniversary, and its first return to stage after eight years. The new rendition delivers exactly what you would expect; a timeless script, big laughs and heartfelt acting, but ultimately nothing new.
Beautiful Thing in simple words is a love story between two teenage boys, but there are deeper undertones. The play centres on the inhabitants of three neighbouring estate flats, and broaches on such issues as domestic violence, alcoholic or absent parents, lost children who have dropped out of school and dealing with your own awakening sexuality. The clear star of the show is Sandra (played with panache by Suranne Jones): waitress, single mother and general diva with a big mouth, but close runners up to the title are Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard, who play the two boys that fall in love; both actors are very young, but take on such daunting tasks as kissing each other completely in their stride; they were fresh, natural and most of all convincing together.
Like afternoon TV, the play is incredibly easy to watch. There’s nothing too dramatic and nothing too difficult, just an easy, informal slice of someone’s life put on stage. It’s wonderfully urban and every-day to the point where it’s almost like a soap; conversation is loaded with football, state benefits, bubble-and-squeak and pop music. The themes are well-known ones and the plot predictable – this play isn’t for the theatrically adventurous or those that want to be challenged. However, the dialogue is, albeit simple, well-written, polished and very funny. The director (Nikolai Foster) was afraid that the script would be dated and slightly stodgy, but the anniversary run of Beautiful Thing proves that 20 years isn’t enough to age a timeless play.
Beautiful Thing runs at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street WC2, until 25 May. Tickets £20-£45. We saw this on a complimentary press ticket.