Star rating – 9/10
The Royal Exchange is firmly back on track after the last dubious offering with a sure fire hit production of Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Beautiful Thing’. It is hard to believe that he was only 24 when he wrote the play nearly 20 years ago. It still feels very relevant today – and I imagine it is no easier now for young gay men to come to terms with their sexuality in the harsh context of the working class communities this play is set in than it was in the 1980’s.
Director Sarah Frankcom has Royal Exchange form, with previous celebrated successes ‘Punk Rock’ and ‘A View from the Bridge’ – and she does not disappoint this time. It is not a great advert for the Thamesmead estate in London, but it is a tender and honest portrayal of young men coming out to their friends and families, whilst falling in love for the first time. It is also very, very funny – with Cagney and Lacey jokes to die for.
Matthew Tennyson plays gentle Jamie, who doesn’t like doing P.E. at school, and whose friends all think he is a bit weird. Tommy Vine is his friend and neighbour Ste, who is having a very hard time at home, and takes refuge in Jamie’s home, ending up in them sharing a bed top to tail. These are great performances by these young actors – sharing intimate and tender moments interspersed with neighbourhood arguments and high passion.
Claire-Louise Cordwell as Jamie’s Mum Sandra is simply amazing. She gives an outstanding performance with a touch of Beverly from ‘Abigail’s Party’, mingled with a fierce love for her son, and affection for his friends. She works hard to hold things together for her family, whilst picking up a few losers along the way. Her one liners are hilarious – delivered with ease and great timing. Tara Hodge is also worthy of a mention as Leah, the girl next door who has been excluded from school, and spends her days listening to Mamma Cass.
The soundtrack before the play and during the interval is brilliant – Mamma Cass, mingled with Madonna and Dusty Springfield. And there is a great guest appearance at the end of the play from members of Manchester’s Gay and Lesbian Chorus. After ‘Weekend’ earlier in the week – it feels like a bit of a great gay fest this week.