Director Steven Dexter’s 25th anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s “Beautiful Thing” is a splendid opening show for the new Above the Stag Theatre.
The play considers teenage love and coming of age on a rough council estate while Section 28 was still in force. Both from challenging families in SE London, Jamie falls in love with his sporty neighbour and schoolmate, Ste. Their gaucheness, the rush of excitement, and an inarticulate tenderness lead to the optimism of first love for outsiders within a threatening community.
Dexter has presented the play with a light touch – I can’t remember so many laughs in previous productions. They need to consider sight lines for future shows; this is worked too far forward so we miss some detail of work on the floor.
David Shields’ design gives effective outside and inside scenes with subtle lighting from Jack Weir, including a delightful set of white fairy lights. Andy Hill’s sound ties everything together with style. He could sell the soundtrack.
JOSHUA ASARÉ is stunning as Jamie. From the start he is touching, totally credible and had us all on his side. A beautiful actor playing a delicate young man with great class.
RYAN ANDERSON’s Ste is a delightful contrast to him. He may be sporty but he is also gentle and considerate.
As Sandra, KYLA FRYE is brilliant! She is the sort of scary mother we’ve all seen in London. No-one would mess with her, and certainly would not dare to trouble her son. She found laughs from a flare of the eyes and a twitch of her hips.
PHOEBE VIGOR makes Leah a force of nature. After exclusion from school and seeming lost in the community, her aggression is heartfelt and develops into a revelation of her deep care and promise for her future. She made me hope Leah survived her childhood.
Tony, played by KIERAN MORTELL, initially seemed over the top for me, but as he settled in, with his Bridal Squad dressing gown, he added more colour to this remarkable community. How deliciously he scuttled in when told by Sandra.
Surprisingly, the play has not dated at all. The music and some TV references place it in time, but it is still relevant and entertaining. This is a gentle and very funny 5 star show for a 5 star new venue!
PS: I can’t wait for the rest of the complex to open – make a note for the first lesbian production “The Penetration Play”, a dark comedy coming to the studio from 26th June!