Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.

BEAUTIFUL THING

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.

Saturday 6th February 2021, 7:30pm, New Theatre

Mark G Nagle (director) presents Jonathan Harvey's (playwright) BEAUTIFUL THING for New Theatre's 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras offering. The John Whiting Award winning work retains a relevance 28 years after it premiered as the issues of domestic violence, drugs, council housing remain along with the ongoing challenges of growing up and discovering who you may love does not fit with family and social expectations.

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.
Will Manton as Jamie, Bayley Prendergast as Ste and Hannah Zaslawski as Leah (Photo: Bob Seary)

BEAUTIFUL THING centers on the inhabitants of three neighboring concrete and brick apartments in a South East London council housing estate. The 15-year-old introverted Jamie (Will Manton) lives with his bar-maid mother Sandra (Julia Kennedy Scott) behind door 5. While Sandra is house-proud and dreams of rising out of her situation by one day managing her own pub, Jamie is doing his best to avoid the school bullies that pick on him for not being good at sport and generally being 'different', hence his propensity to skip school. To their left lives Leah (Hannah Zaslawski), an abrasive and foul-mouthed teen expelled from school who escapes from her world through drugs and her mother's collection of Mama Cass' music when she is not baiting people, particularly Sandra, with insults. The third apartment featured is home to Stephen (Bayley Prendergast), more commonly known as Ste, and his brother Trevor and their father. While Ste is the classic good-looking sports kid, he hides The Bruises inflicted by his violent alcoholic father and plans on breaking out of his situation by getting a job at the local sports center where he will also be able to indulge his love of sport, particularly swimming. Added to the mix is Sandra's latest boyfriend, Tony (Caspar Hardaker), a young neo-hippie who claims to be an artist who tries to provide a paternal influence for Jamie while not being anywhere near old enough to be his father.

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.
Will Manton as Jamie and Bayley Prendergast as Ste (Photo: Bob Seary)

Set Designer David Marshall-Martin has the three doorways within the segment of apartment building reflect their inhabitants. Sandra and Jamie's clean door is surrounded by Sandra's potplants with her prized possession of hanging pot positioned by the door. Although the audience only meets Leah, the grimy door gives and indication that her mother isn't as fastidious as Sandra. On the other side, Ste's door bears markings akin to claw scratches, echoing the physical violence within. While most of the interactions take place on the common balcony walkway in front of the apartments and in the courtyard, scenes in Jamie's single bed room play an integral part of the story and the combination of lighting and a hidden panel help shift the scenes indoors. Mahran Mortezaei's lighting helps indicate the passage of time once with the use of the bathroom lights, the color changes of the setting and rising sun and a central spotlight that revolves to illuminate the audience.

BEAUTIFUL THING is written with a natural honesty that doesn't shy away from the challenges of the socioeconomic group put In Focus. Harvey keeps the boys growth and awakening to their love pure and sweet, still peppered with the turmoil of self-acceptance in a world where the boys, particularly Ste, know that they can be attacked for their relationship, but not overrun with overt sexuality that other queer stories often utilize. Their evolving love retains an innocence that reminds the audience that Jamie and Ste's love isnt that dissimilar to the mainstream straight teen coming of age stories, reinforcing that young love is beautiful (as the audience's supportive sighs when they do reunite will attest to). Nagle ensures that this is all presented with an honesty that is recognizable for all. He ensures that his performers balance the bold brash 'public' bravado with their more private vulnerabilities in a way that feels genuine, fostering audience sympathy for all, even after Leah and Sandra's abrasive and obnoxious volley of insults that seems somewhat incongruous with older woman's position as a mother verbally rising to the teen's antagonism.

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.
Julia Kennedy Scott as Sandra and Caspar Hardaker as Tony (Photo: Bob Seary)

The intimate cast of 5 deliver strong performances with reasonably consistent working class East London accents. Will Manton has a delightful innocence as the young boy who used to play Cagney and Lacey instead of kicking the ball with the boys at playtime. His expression of Jamie's shyness when made to share a bed with Ste, when Sandra offers he stay over to avoid his father's beatings, is charming in its natural awkwardness and desire not to alarm or offend. Bayley Prendergast captures Ste's internal conflict of knowing that he feels for Jamie and realizing that if people, particularly his family, found out, he'd be subjected to even more beatings. Caspar Hardaker's portrayal of Tony is amusingly geeky as the young man that seems to still be growing into himself, trying to be a grown up but also lacking the focus and maturity to keep Sandra interested in the long term even though he appears to be the best influence on her for a while. Julia Kennedy Scott ensures that the audience see that Sandra is somewhat of a contradiction with a variable personality as she shifts from concerned responsible parent to verbally sparring with a child with a series of foul-mouthed insults. Through Leah, Hanna Zaslawski adds a large degree of the comedy relief of the work as the girl that they all seem to tolerate but don't really appreciate or understand. Her portrayal of Leah, high on drugs channeling the spirit of Mama Cass is a priceless performance.

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.
Hannah Zaslawski as Leah (Photo: Bob Seary)

While serving as a reminder that more needs to be done about the social problems caused by social inequality, high density living and school systems often ill equipped to handle troubled children, BEAUTIFUL THING reminds the audience that there are good things amongst the bleak and one of those is love that should be celebrated not shunned. This is a wonderfully crafted performance that will have you leaving the theatre happy and hopeful that future young lovers may find the support and strength that Jamie and Ste have.

https://newtheatre.org.au/beautiful-thing/

BWW REVIEW: BEAUTIFUL THING Is A Heartwarming Coming Of Age Story That Emerges From The Bleak Concrete Of British Council Housing.
Photo: Bob Seary

Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

Related Articles View More Australia - Sydney Stories

From This Author Jade Kops