Subtitled “A Love Story”, “Beautiful Thing” by Jonathan Harvey at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week lives up to its name. First staged in 1993, transferred to the West End in 1994 and made into a film directed by Hettie McDonald in 1996, this is a comedy, in the Shakespearean sense, about love between two teenaged boys.
Despite the socio-sexual climate of Britain twenty years ago, this is not a play designed to shock. Harvey has written about physical tenderness and caring, but not the raw exploitative sexual relationship that is sometimes, even today, the caricature drawn of “the love that dare not speak its name.”
The excellent cast take ownership of their characters’ tedious, unfulfilled lives, where violence is always in the offing as tension and frustration mount. Vanessa Babirye as Lea, the boys’ ex-school friend (“I’m excluded, ain’t I?”) is a delight: feisty, moody, bored, sulky and ebullient by turns, she’s a great foil for the morose Jamie and Sandra the bossy, dismissive chav who nevertheless proves she loves her son. Thomas Law as Ste brings admirable honesty and depth to the role: struggling to overcome his insecurity, afraid of ridicule or worse, he at last trusts the loving physical relationship with Jamie.
Twenty years ago, gay relationships were taboo to an extent that has been somewhat (though not wholly) mitigated in Britain today. This play was notable in 1993 for its lack of sensationalism about homosexuality. Today it still reminds us that love is based on caring and kindness between human beings, whatever their gender. This is a love story full of compassion, warmth and innocence.
© Janice Windle