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A CurtainUp London Review
The playwright worked as a teacher in Thamesmead, an eerie collection of grey council housing concrete blocks, which still looks to me like something out of Eastern Europe. The play was been described as "an urban fairytale" and of course it is not the place where you would expect to find tolerance and harmony. By contrast it is one of the hostelries of Greenwich, The (now defunct and renamed) Gloucester which is a safe place for gays to meet.
Jamie (Jake Davies) lives with his single parent mother Sandra (Suranne Jones) in Thamesmead, a deprived area of south east London on the edge of Erith Marshes. Sandra, who works in a bar in London, has a succession of men friends, the latest of whom is an artist, Tony (Oliver Farnworth).
Jamie is harangued by his loud-mouthed mother in the opening scene of the play for bunking off school instead of taking part in sports lessons and, in one scene, she physically attacks him. Ste (Danny-Boy Hatchard) is their neighbour who lives with his father whom we never see. Ste is beaten up by his drunken father. Ste tells us that one day in Woolwich he stepped over a body of a drunk, only to realise that it was his own father. Both Ste and, to a lesser extent Jamie, have abusive families but find comfort with each other.
Beautiful Thing is a tender and romantic portrayal of teenagers tentatively exploring each other's sexuality in the least romantic of settings. Set on the landing of the council flats with three blue painted doors leading to the flats, Sandra's door is surrounded by hanging baskets which get more tending and care than her son. On the walls of Colin Richmond's set are television aerials and high up, bizarrely, an abandoned shopping trolley. On one side of Sandra lives Ste, on the other a black girl, Leah (Zaraah Abrahams) who seems to be bringing herself up and provides much of the comedy with her worship of Mamma Cass. The set switches to Jamie's bedroom with the arrival of a bed on the landing which Jamie and Ste initially share head to toe when Sandra offers him space to get away from his violent father.
Harvey's characters are real and essentially likeable. Suranne Jones is excellent as Sandra, who is full of contradictions. She can be warm hearted but she is also brash and vulgar. We warm to the two boys and smile when Sandra asks Jamie who plays the Baroness in the Sound of Music and know that he knows the answer and this knowledge of musicals is unexpected in a 15 year old. Danny-Boy Hatchard and Jake Davies play the boys with great skill and innocence. I liked too Oliver Farnworth's boyfriend whose present of a football to Jamie isn't at first appreciated.
On opening night, the audience were so behind the cast that there were cheers and some people knew all the words. Beautiful Thing was the inspiration for a generation.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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