Having met the cast and director Nikolai Foster, at the press launch of this touring production – http://www.thepublicreviews.com/preview-beautiful-thing-back-on-tour/ – I was intrigued to see it on stage and what better place to catch it than at the splendid Curve, where Mr Foster is Artistic Director? Sadly the tour will be going no further than here, but congratulations are due to the entire team for reinvigorating Jonathan Harvey’s groundbreaking work of theatre and giving it a modern feel, whilst staying true to its original period and setting – the 1990s in a South London social housing block, represented in Colin Richmond’s set by three adjacent blue doors. 20 years ago, it drew the tag “gay play”, but now, with it’s surprise value diminished, it can be seen more clearly as what Harvey may have always intended, a simple demonstration of the basic human needs of caring and being cared for. Take, for example, Leah, delightfully played by Vanessa Babirye, who is excluded from school and just about everything else in life; she lacks a caring parent, but finds consolation in the music of Mamma Cass, whose warm, melodic voice provides the show’s backing track. Sandra (Charlie Brooks at her feistiest) is a single mother, struggling to make ends meet working in a bar and she attaches herself to a succession of unsuitable boyfriends, the latest of which is Tony (Gerard McCarthy). Her sensitive 15-year-old son Jamie (Sam Jackson) plays truant on days when Games is on the school timetable; he has become used to standing up to her and the pair bicker constantly, but, thanks to fine performances from Brooks and Jackson, the strength of the bond between mother and son is never in question. Neighbour Ste (Thomas Law) lacks such a stabilising influence, his drunken father brutally abusing him and it is when he takes refuge in Sandra’s flat that his relationship with Jamie starts to develop. The great beauty of Foster’s production is how it picks out small and humorous gestures of warmth in Harvey’s script and magnifies them – Jamie rubbing foot cream (the only thing he could find) into Ste’s bruises, Jamie accepting a gift of a woolly hat from Ste and snapping “I’m having it”, instantly realising that the significance of the gift is far more important than a detail such as whether or not it fits. Again Jackson and Law have great on-stage chemistry, getting us rooting for them as they set out tentatively into a world which they realise may be hostile towards them. In less confident hands, a lot of this could make up too sugary a pill for many to swallow, but here it has a savoury coating extracted from real life and it becomes irresistible.
Performance date: 28 May 2015