Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing is a moving, queer love story which has resonated with audiences since its premiere back in 1993 at Bush Theatre. Harvey’s play has been commended for its humour, uplifting moments, and its authentic portrayal of love in the face of adversity. Thirty years later, Beautiful Thing has returned to London under Anthony Simpson-Pike’s direction.

Credit: The Other Richard

Set against the backdrop of a South London council estate, the show revolves around the lives of two teenage boys, Ste and Jamie, as they form an unexpected bond.

Jamie (Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran), who dislikes sports and would rather listen to The Sound of Music, is avoiding school as he is being bullied. His classmate and neighbour Ste (Raphael Akuwudike), a sports fanatic and popular pupil, is avoiding home due to an abusive dad. One night, Ste faces trouble at home when his drunken dad lashes out. Ste seeks refuge next door when Jamie’s mum overhears and invites Ste into their home. Sharing a single bed, Ste and Jamie develop a connection and strike up a new relationship.

With support from Jamie’s fiercely protective mum, Sandra, and their rebellious neighbour, Leah, we see Ste and Jamie explore their feelings and sexuality.

Rosie Elnile’s realistic council estate set design and Xana’s nostalgic soundtrack transport us back to the nineties. While the time and setting remain the same as the original, I appreciate Simpson-Pike’s revival being told through a Black queer lens. This is clearly a significant piece of LGBTQ+ theatre, so to include characters that reflect the diversity of the community is beautiful to see.

Scarlett Rayner’s performance as Leah oozes with a bubbly and sometimes chaotic energy, while Sandra’s smooth-talking boyfriend, Tony (Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge), delivers cheesy one-liners which provide laughter. Shvorne Marks brilliantly portrays the feisty Sandra and commands the stage with her presence. Amongst the hilarity, I enjoyed the vulnerability shown through the characters, as we discover the personal challenges they face.

Credit: The Other Richard

The play is full of warmth and humorous scenes too, although not all the jokes landed for me. The pacing of the show, particularly in Act One, feels too slow and there are moments where the energy dips. There are elongated scenes with the tension between Leah and Sandra, which I feel weighs the show down. I would have preferred additional scenes with Ste and Jamie instead, especially leading up to their romance. Abiola Owokoniran and Akuwudike perform with believable chemistry and I absolutely adore their moments together. Whether it was reading magazines, playing football, or clubbing- I wanted to see more!

Beautiful Thing is a beautifully written play and remains a heartwarming portrayal of queer love. It’s refreshing to witness an LGBTQ+ story with a happy ever after.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Beautiful Thing runs at Stratford East until 7 October, It will then run at Leeds Playhouse from 18 – 28 October, and HOME Manchester from 31 October 11 November,

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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