Beautiful Thing was a West End hit for playwright Jonathan Hardy in 1993. It is a gentle play about emerging gay love. Though set in the UK, its characters and their relationships are poignantly universal. Hardy injects their story with hope and humour that director Mark G Nagle describes as “touching and funny”.
Nagle has accented both in this sensitive but robust production. It is loud and fast at times – as one would expect of families living closely “between the concrete blocks and walkways of a council housing estate in south east London”. At other times it is heart-breakingly tender – as one would expect when two teenagers reach out awkwardly to love despite their uncertainty and fear.
Nagle and his cast have studied the characters carefully, seeking the many dimensions that Hardy has, perhaps unwittingly, written between the lines of their dialogue. Strength and brittleness, determination and vulnerability, humour and desperation – all of these characteristics are there in the lines. All of them are there in the very realistic, believable individuals portrayed by Nagle’s committed cast.
With their precisely-honed accents they take us right into the atmosphere of the council estate where everyone knows everyone else’s business and everyone looks for “some beautiful thing to cling on to”.
Jamie and Steve (Will Manton and Bayley Predergast) know that “the beautiful thing” they have found might not be considered right, but they know it is real. Both actors find endearing frailty in their performances, as well as the hope and sense of fun of two teenagers trying to find their place in a confusing world. Both deal with dysfunctional families – and support each other as they do so.
Hannah Zaslawsk plays Leah, the girl next door, a bit of an outcast who’s been kicked out of school. But Leah isn’t a quitter, and she can sing like Mama Cass! Zaslawski is strong performer who gives this character depth and gritty courage – and an optimistic energy that invigorates the production.
Julia Kennedy Scott is Jamie’s single mother Sandra who is conscious of her responsibility as mother and provider – but has her own life as well. Kennedy Scott plays this role with sound understanding of this, as well as keen realisation of the humour that Hardy has written into character. She too brings great energy to the production – especially in the way she relates with new boyfriend, Tony, played with unwavering sanguinity by Caspar Hardaker.
On David Marshall-Martin’s minimalist but sneaky set, and with Nagle’s perceptive direction, they bring this moving, funny, hopeful play to life.
Photographer: Bob Seary