Jonathan Harvey’s writing career has always been intertwined with the Liverpool Playhouse, so a stop on the tour of the 20th anniversary revival of his best-known work Beautiful Thing was a must.
A tender coming-of-age tale of (gay) first love, the play tells the story of Jamie (Jake Davies) and Ste (Danny-Boy Hatchard), 15-year-old neighbours in a block of London flats. Ste often escapes to his friend’s house – and innocently, his bed – to escape a violent father, and over the course of one hot summer, their relationship blossoms.
It’s a simple, well-told tale with no big surprises and a real feel-good factor, featuring plenty of Harvey’s trademark light and shade. After Beautiful Thing, he would go on to become a writer for Coronation Street, and that is no surprise on the strength of this accessible and succinct script. The last work of Harvey’s to appear on the Playhouse stage was Canary in 2010, much grander and more ambitious in scope and scale than this uncomplicated, sweet story.
The cast is completed by Jamie’s no-nonsense barmaid mother Sandra (Suranne Jones), her hipster artist boyfriend Tony (Oliver Farnworth), and Mama Cass obsessed delinquent Leah (Zaraah Abrahams) forming the bosom of an unconventional but loving alternative family.
Colin Richmond’s simple set design is complemented by David Plater’s lighting, most keenly demonstrated during the scenes in Jamie’s bedroom.
Suranne Jones has formidable stage presence and shines as bolshy, beautiful – though, at 35, “ancient” – Sandra, and Zaraah Abrahams is charming as troublemaker Leah, who gets a few nice numbers to sing too. Oliver Farnworth’s Tony is rather broad in comparison, a cartoony outsider who never quite seems to fit in.
At the heart of Beautiful Thing were two performances so natural and convincing they could almost be overlooked, that of Davies and Hatchard as the young lovers. A sweeter and more satisfying piece of theatre you’d be hard pressed to find.