First performed at London’s Bush Theatre twenty years ago, Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing has returned to the West End stage with a run at the Arts Theatre.
This new production of the seminal coming-of-age story is directed by Nikolai Foster, and stars Suranne Jones as brassy South London mom Sandra, with Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard as Jamie and Ste. Sandra’s love interest is played by TV regular Oliver Farnworth (Hollyoaks, The Royal, Doctors) while Zaraah Abrahams plays Leah, the slightly unhinged girl from across the landing who has an obsession with American songstress Mama Cass.
The acting in this production really is spot on – Farnworth is particularly effective as the louche Tony and Surranne Jones plays a lovely mom, while Davies and Hatchard are perfectly convincing in their roles as the young gay lovers. The play itself has aged surprisingly well too – the comedy lines are still strong, and while some of the South London spots name-checked in the script may be a distant memory an honest love story is timeless, and Beautiful Thing is about as honest as it gets. The love scene featuring ‘peppermint foot lotion’ was controversial twenty years ago, but thankfully society has shifted around the play in the intervening years – rather than drawing gasps from the audience, these days it elicits gentle ‘aahs’ – many of the patrons no doubt drawing on their own fond memories of early romantic encounters.
These days much of the West End’s serious output does seem to go out of its way to eviscerate audience members, and its a great relief to go and see a play that is as uplifting and joyful as Beautiful Thing. The killer soundtrack helps too of course – in what other setting could the Sound Of Music and the Mamas & Papas work so effectively together?
Highly recommended – go see it!