Beautiful Thing is as relevant today as it was when it premiered in 1993.
The coming-out story follows 15 year old Jamie as he finds romance with his neighbour Ste on their council estate, whilst dealing with his tempestuous mother and their foul-mouthed neighbour’s love of Mama Cass. The music, as you would expect, is wonderful.
By turns dark and hilarious, the play balances issues of domestic abuse, truancy and strained relationships with a delightfully clever and obscene script. The scene where Jamie comes out to his mother is particularly touching, especially when the young man in the audience next to me clasps his mother’s hand – and the two of them watch in smiling silence. Clearly this is a story which speaks to people’s experiences and is one which isn’t told often enough. Half of the audience give a standing ovation as the curtain comes down.
The other half of the audience, however, remains seated. This might be because while the story and the script are wonderful, and while Brooks is charismatic and provocative as Jamie’s mother, the rest of the cast leave something to be desired. The two boys are convincingly awkward as teenagers discovering love and sex for the first time, but they lack the presence and chemistry necessary to drive the story forward. The aggressive Mama Cass fan and bourgeois bohemian stepfather attempt to compensate for this by overacting, which unbalances the performance as a whole.
Finally, the play is often described as ‘feel-good’, but it seems to me that not being rejected for who you are is too low a bar to set for a story to be uplifting. Which is not to say that the darker elements of the play should be ignored, or that they are not relevant – merely that this is more of a drama about struggling with acceptance (that has funny moments), than it is a feel-good story with serious undertones. This is still a beautiful play, it could simply do with a bit more chemistry and a stronger cast.