By Dylan Sutcliffe, third year Theatre and Performance Studies
Dylan Sutcliffe reviews Beautiful Thing, a nineties love story produced by Tobacco Factory Theatres in celebration of the play's 25th anniversary year.
Navigating adolescence can be disheartening and difficult. Navigating adolescence whilst being so different to your peers, and facing ignorance and disdain, can be even more so. As one grows older one appreciates the importance of finding your tribe and building strong relationships with people, be they blood relations or not. This message was the resounding triumph of Jonathan Harvey’s script, which Tobacco Factory Theatre presents with sensitivity and warmth.
Beautiful Thing focuses around the relationship of two adolescent males, Jamie and Ste, on a London housing estate in the early nineties. We are introduced to Jamie and his mother Sandra, their neighbour Leah, Sandra’s new boyfriend Tony, and Ste. The play begins to explore how life on the estate affects these people, and how Jamie and Ste’s relationship begins to develop through Ste sleeping at Jamie’s when hiding from his father’s violent outbursts. The performances from the younger actors demonstrate a great sense of maturity when approaching immaturity. They reflect a brilliant understanding of what it is to be at that formative age of not quite a child, but not yet an adult, and they bounce off each other with brilliant chemistry.
"the performances from the younger actors demonstrate a great sense of maturity when approaching immaturity"
Praise must be given to Amy-Leigh Hickman, whose portrayal of Leah never falters from the high standard she sets in the opening scene. Hickman presents Leah as a complex character who, although not completely a without fault, is certainly a firm audience favourite who brings a wonderful energy to the stage. The triumph of the younger actors does, at times, come at the cost of outshining the adult actors, especially in the first act, making it difficult to connect and sympathise with the characters of the older performers. I cannot, however, ignore the stellar performance of Phoebe Thomas in the second act. The chemistry and motherly nature of Thomas is incredible, and her delivery is comic whilst simultaneously maintaining so much soul.
25 years after the premier of #BeautifulThing @tftheatres give it a loving revival under careful hand of @mike_twed . It puts the work at the forefront and reveals all it's funny, tender, accepting heart. Around the auditorium you could see what it meant and means to so many. pic.twitter.com/slM9phimwQ— Kris Hallett (@krishallett) 18 October 2018
Anisha Field delivers a brilliant set that utilises the Tobacco Factory’s unique space in an interesting manner. Clever and versatile, Field's set allows the audience to become immersed into the world of the play whilst maintaining a sizable playing space for the actors to use. However, there are some noticeable problems with cuing and timings which hinder the flow and pace of the production. Some slight staging issues additionally undermine the stage world created - actors focusing on different places when viewing things off stage causes problems for the audience's suspension of their disbelief. The fight choreography utilised in a scene between Jamie and Sandra is quite messy and lacks believability, and requires greater precision in its implementation.
"for all the mistakes and errors made in the show, one can’t deny the enthusiasm and the heart that this production has"
For all the mistakes and errors made in the show, one can’t deny the enthusiasm and the heart that this production has. The show makes use of a community choir, which acts as a transitional tool to symbolise time passing and offers further visual and aural evocations of the nineties setting. As I was sat amongst Choir B - who alternate with Choir A who we saw perform- I could feel the love and joy people had for this show. They happily talked about the rehearsals and were proud that they were all locals with no prior singing ability. The onstage choir really reflected the idea of community and the fostered families of those who struggle to fit in.
Yet its major assett is a community choir that sing their heart out & provide colour & texture to an intimate piece. Theatres talk about how to open their space up to all & it's on show here. It's a blaze of diversity on that stage, giving their all to their local theatre. pic.twitter.com/rvojyCh94a— Kris Hallett (@krishallett) 18 October 2018
Beautiful Thing is a play with an important and relevant message, staged with heart and love for the communities it performs - a real gem at the Factory that is not to be missed.
(Featured image credits: Unsplash / Honey Fangs)
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