While Jonathan Harvey's latest play, Canary
, recently premiered, the play that made his name, 1993's Beautiful Thing
, has returned in what is apparently its first UK touring production. The thing with touring productions is you never know just what kind of quality you're letting yourself in for, but fortunately Giuliano Crispini's production for Giddy Ox is one of the good ones, and more than lives up to the much-loved film version. This is the first time I've seen it on stage although I did read the script
earlier this year, and Adrian Gee's set design closely follows the description there. And why not as it's a simple but effective idea - three front doors of a tower block on a raised platform, and in front of it Jamie's bed where the play's central romance takes place.
I've seen the film so many times that I seem to know half the lines, so it's nice to see that Crispini and his company haven't tried to replicate it but have put their own spin on things - although I could have sworn that the two lead boys, Andy Daniel and Scott Weston, were cast for their resemblance to the film's stars. But Daniel in particular is much better as Jamie, giving a very comfortable, realistic performance that puts him firmly at the heart of the play. Sian Polhill-Thomas is the living whirlwind that is Sandra, Jamie's mother, and she's a slightly gentler, less abrasive Sandra than I perhaps expected, but still a dab hand at Harvey's one-liners - "Autumnal Shades" brings the house down. Former Eastender
Brooke Kinsella meanwhile plays Leah, the other neighbour, Mama Cass-fixated and the local slapper (although we've only got Sandra's rather unreliable word to go on for the latter point.)
The final character is Sandra's posh stoner boyfriend with delusions of being down with the kids, yeah? Charlie Randall is great as Tony, stealing pretty much every scene he's in, and I found myself liking the character a lot more here than before. He also has a couple of topless scenes which are rather nice (although that's got to be a sign that you're getting old, when you fancy Tony rather than Jamie and Ste.) Utterly weird fact I discovered from the script book incidentally: In the very first production at the Bush, Tony was played by Philip Glenister, a bit of casting I just can't get my head round considering the role he's subsequently become best known for. (He was replaced by Rhys Ifans for the West End transfer but that I can see more easily; and of course Jonny Lee Miller was the original Ste so quite a few people did well after appearing in the early stage versions.)
Overall this was just spot-on, a relief as I wasn't sure what to expect (even from the play itself - at the time it was very much a reaction to gay drama at the time, which Harvey saw as unrelentingly bleak and pessimistic, so I wondered if out of context it would come across as saccharine; fortunately the acidic sense of humour prevents that.) It's still set in the early '90s, so references to Princess Di are in the present tense, Jamie and Ste still remember Cagney and Lacey
, and their first experience of a gay pub is still The Gloucester, which was across the road from this very theatre but has since closed down. I went with penny_p
and Andy; my sister actually came with me to see the film at the cinema when it first came out so remembered it fondly but not in as much detail as I did, while Andy had never even seen the film. Both loved it, and on the subject of touring productions being of variable quality, Andy said afterwards that in contrast with certain other things we've seen at the same theatre
this production could hold its own against much of what's on in London.Beautiful Thing
by Jonathan Harvey ends tonight at Greenwich Theatre and continues on tour.