The West End gets beautiful again
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The show that everyone seems to be talking about certainly deserves the word of mouth. Beautiful Thing is as poignant and as wonderful as it ever was, despite the sea of change since it was first performed 20 years ago.
This anniversary production - which tours after a limited run in London’s West End – remains true to the original. It’s set in 1993, technological and political changes haven’t influenced the genius of the script and Mama Cass still provides the score. And yes, Gay Times is still there. One day the show will become a precious portrait of a forgotten era (when gay teens feared to come out) but its social commentary isn't historical just yet.
It’s always going to be held up against the movie (which didn’t come until three years later, but hey, lets celebrate that now too) but the original play has a rapid-fire wit that perhaps you can’t appreciate as much in the big screen outing. Especially given the audience response, which filled the Arts Theatre with laughter, cheers and applause for numerous one-liners.
Set on the balcony of a south London estate, the ambient sound makes all the difference – we’d never given much thought to the fact that of course you’d be able to hear background noise on a London council estate and it helps to draw you into the minimal set, alongside some clever lighting (we defy you not to feel slightly teary for the final set-up).
The cast are great – Zaraah Abrahams has a fantastic singing voice as Leah, Oliver Farnsworth is brilliantly cringe-worthy as Tony (and also has a gratuitous underwear scene, which we’re grateful for) and Danny-Boy Hatchard is heartbreaking as the love-torn Ste.
Suranne Jones and Jake Davies are exceptional as mother and son Sandra and Jamie – especially in their big early-morning emotional outpouring - but as ever it’s the writing that is king. The audience are still howling with laughter one moment and quietly sniffling the next at Jonathan Harvey’s fantastic script. And it’s been a long time since we’ve heard that kind of applause.
It’s the tiny play that’s still got so much love to give, even after all this time. If you don’t know the story – what, have you been living under a rock? – then go and see it. If you love the story, go and see it again. And again.
The Arts Theatre, London until 25 May then touring. Full details and tickets here.
Words: Darren Scott