Being a teenager is brutal with the nagging parents, unstable friendships, and general boredom of school but it’s all heightened by the raging hormones and overwhelming pressure to figure yourself out as quickly as possible. Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play is all about teenage angst but with the sparkling joys of love and understanding, too.
Jamie (Will Manton) is 15 and he hates school sport, his mum’s (Julia Kennedy Scott) meddling, and her trail of drop-kick boyfriends. He lives in council housing surrounded by the town loud-mouth Leah (Hannah Zaslawski) and the quiet jock Ste (Bayley Prendergast), both of whom have their own problems at home. While Ste seeks refuge from his abusive father and brother at Jamie’s, the two boys tentatively begin a first romance. Their close-quarters living doesn’t allow for secrets though, and they soon have to confront the opinions of those around them, as well as any of their own lingering doubts.
Harvey’s script is concentrated sweetness from the first flushes of the boys’ crushes to their honest acceptance by friends and family. While the story for Ste and Jamie isn’t all easy, the script is decidedly lacking a lot of the tragedy and suffering common in coming out stories (both real and staged). It’s not that Beautiful Thing is a denial of the mainstream narrative but rather an imagined alternative; something softer, something more beautiful.
The set design by David Marshall-Martin was pleasantly dynamic with the front entrances to each flat and the central staircase providing various levels. Mehran Mortezaei’s lighting design had a touch of the theatrical with blinking front windows for each of the flats and the occasional spotlight for private moments. Special mention should also be made of costuming by Glenn Braithwaite for perfectly capturing men’s fashion of the 1990s. Direction from Mark G Nagle plays into a kind of sitcom tone to the northern English location with exaggerated gestures and frequent yelling in both anger and jest. However, over the course of the production, the honesty of the characterisation came through and made each of the characters uniquely loveable.
Caspar Hardaker was surprisingly compelling as Sandra’s arty younger boyfriend Tony and his loopy silliness balanced out Scott’s brasher moments as Sandra. The three teens were charming and uncomfortable in equal measure from Leah’s desperate demands for attention to Ste’s ricocheting emotions. In particular, Manton played Jamie with an expert balance between the tender and prickly extremes of teenaged boys. The slow and gentle dynamic between Manton and Prendergast was beautiful and very believable.
Beautiful Thing offers exactly what it says on the tin: something soft and sweet to hold and love, not perfect, but enough.
Beautiful Thing is running at New Theatre from February 2nd – March 6th as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
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