By Tom Pymer
As possibly one of the last productions of the year, Beautiful Thing is a story of two young men and their feelings about the world and each other. I hate to begin a review with something of a plot spoiler, but it is essential to understanding this play: it is a story about the realisation of two 16-year-old gay men about their personal feelings and their relationships with others as a result.
The first thing that must be said is that there is nothing especially remarkable about the storyline of Beautiful Thing. However, in one sense this lack of difference in the storyline is precisely what gives Beautiful Thing its relatability. Not only is it a story that could happen, it is a story that almost certainly has happened. Perhaps you even know someone who has experienced it. It seems very natural: all of the things are things that might be said. There is a scene which I feel must be paid attention to between the characters of Alex Marshall’s Jamie and Richard Penney’s Tony (who is Jamie’s Mum’s boyfriend). This particular episode was a case of awkwardness personified, but this is not a criticism – it gives the scene a natural feel, like one would expect the relationship between two people with such a relationship to play out.
All of the characters are very human and their interactions feel as such. I knew someone like each and every one of them. I know a middle-aged woman trying to be young, like Molly Goetzee’s Sandra and a complete head case like Laura Chowdhury’s Leah.
I feel that special attention must be given to the character of Ste, played exceptionally by Adam Evans. Evans creates a character who one could not help but feel sympathy and empathy for. It is a splendid performance and communicates the pressures felt by a closeted gay man under pressure from his father and brothers and suffers being beaten up for being different.
What must be said, however, is that, with the possible exception of Evans, the performances fluctuate in engagement. It is often difficult to relate to the quite remarkable mood swings the characters seem to experience; a lot of the time it is hard to tell whether they are joking in their insults of each other or not. The energy occasionally drops off.
The other major problem is its closeness to a soap. As a result, it nearly strays into mundanity and predictability. It does manage to stay off this – we are never quite sure how the story is going to end, but unfortunately there are only a few clear options it could follow.
The criticisms I pose, however, are much cleared up, especially in the second act. Again without wanting to give too much away, there is a very touching scene between Ste and Sandra, and another between Jamie and Ste, both of which brought a slight lump to my throat and really raise the energy. Chowdhury has everyone laughing with one very eccentric scene. Latterly, the actors really come into their own and give more energised performances. Indeed, it isn’t always the case that energy dipped in the first half of the show: some scenes between Marshall and Evans are brilliant and there is a fantastic standoff between Evans and Chowdhury which leaves the air practically crackling with tension.
If you’re still in Durham tomorrow night, go and see this play. It is definitely a play that deserves to be watched.
Beautiful Thing is being performed in Caedmon Hall on Friday the 22nd of June at 19:30. Trigger warning: contains very strong language and minor themes of domestic violence.
Photography: Beautiful Thing Production Team.