The Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome
Nottingham Playhouse, Curve Theatre & Tom O’Connell for QNQ
31st March 2015 (until 11th April plus further tour dates)
Jonathan Harvey’s urban love story first premiered in 1993. It was an instant hit. As was peppermint foot lotion at the Body Shop I shouldn’t wonder! Harvey of course went on to television success with “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”, “Beautiful People” and “Coronation Street”. As a writer he certainly knows how to tap into his audience’s funny bones, but also emotions. This piece provides both.
The story takes place on a run-down estate in Thamesmead, Bermondsey during a hot summer, and follows Jamie – a fifteen year old boy who lives with his mother as he struggles with school, home and, more importantly, his coming of age. After its initial stage success, “Beautiful Thing” was made into a film in 1996 which Harvey adapted himself. Interestingly, two of its stars are now firm favourites in “EastEnders” – Linda Henry (Shirley) and Temeka Empson (Kim).
For this production we are presented with two “EastEnders” alumni. Charlie Brooks (Janine Butcher) plays Sandra, a blousy, council estate single mother to Jamie. She’s full of swag and bite, but underneath has a heart of gold. Ms Brooks looks a little young to be playing this character but fully throws herself into it. After the darkness of Janine she is a revelation as a brilliant comedy actress and also capable of heartfelt emotion (which I think we knew already).
The other east-ender is Thomas Law – who played Peter Beale before he reappeared last year with a completely different head! He plays Ste – a school friend of Jamie’s – who also happens to live next door. He’s also having his own problems – mainly his alcoholic and abusive father. One night, after a particularly hefty beating, Sandra gives him refuge at hers where he has to “top and tail” with Jamie. And there begins the foundations of our love story.
The heart of this play is two teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Yes it was written over twenty years ago (we have a few early 90’s references: Richard & Judy, Grange Hill, etc) but I’d say the piece is as current now. I can’t imagine much has changed for teens today in the same position.
A big part of this production and film was the soundtrack which is the wonderfully uplifting songs of Mama Cass (The Mamas & The Papas). Thankfully they are still here. As soon as it opens with “It’s Getting Better” it sets the scene perfectly. The neighbour on the other side of Sandra is Leah (played brilliantly by a funny and feisty Vanessa Babirye) who is another of Jamie’s school friends and who has a more than mild obsession with Mama Cass – providing lots of comedy!
Sam Jackson (“Skins”) plays Jamie and is utterly believable in the role – tugging on your heart strings all the way. The revelation scene between him and Brooks is both electric and extremely moving.
Gerard McCarthy (“Hollyoaks”) completes the cast as Sandra’s stoner boyfriend. Without spoilers I did feel a bit sorry for his character at the end.
This is a wonderful play, excellently performed, and got a much deserved standing ovation tonight.
Oh and watch out for the “magical bed” which almost got its own round of applause!
4 stars. It’s a beautiful thing.