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Review: Beautiful Thing at the Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham

Jonathan Harvey’s ground-breaking 1993 play set in Thamesmead, a south-east London warren of housing estates features a cast of grafters, drifters, fantasists and misfits of one sort or another. But most particularly it describes how two boys living next door to each other in this hostile working class area accidentally and painfully fall in love, a modern Romeo and Romeo, making theatrical history in the progress.

Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing

This production’s real achievement shows his characters as neither correct nor incorrect stereotypes but real, ordinary and extra-ordinary people who have their own entirely authentic autonomy, using actors who convince from the moment they step on stage.

Dawn Butler gives one of the strongest and most successful performances I have seen in a very long time as the play’s lynch-pin Sandra, the fiercely determined and hard-working single mum with aspirations. Joseph Patten is a delightful foil as Tony her vaguely posh pretentious drifter of a boyfriend, while Lorren Winwood provides marvellous comic relief as Leah, the young sassy neighbour retreating from high rise reality into a Haight Ashbury fantasy world set to a hippy-friendly soundtrack by Mama Cass.

But in even this marvellous cast it’s the boys who astonish. Andrew Greaves is marvellous as the inarticulate, brutalised Ste for whom love comes unexpectedly into a hopeless world, while Reis Bruce is utterly natural as Jamie the boy who reaches out to him, in the process giving the performance possibly of a lifetime which I know I will be referencing for a long time to come.

Laughter, tears, and the journey either towards or away from them are the only reactions worthy of true drama, and here neither are ever far away. Tracey Street’s mistressful production sports an unusually brilliant roster of towering performances even by her own monumental standards, and in the Old joint Stock’s tiny space we are so close that we are privy even to her actors’ changes of skin tone.

A marvellous, life-enhancing production which ought to be snapped up at once by one of our great subsidised theatres.

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