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Beautiful Thing

Sam Jackson and Thomas Law in Beautiful Thing. Photo: Anton Belmonte Sam Jackson and Thomas Law in Beautiful Thing. Photo: Anton Belmonte
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Jonathan Harvey’s iconic 90s play about love blossoming between two young boys on a Thamesmead estate has lost none of its relevance or humour over the decades. Originally mounted in 2013 to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Nikolai Foster’s production retains Colin Richmond’s simple, composite set but includes a fresh cast bringing new energy and insight to this urban fairy tale.

Central to the success of this play is the relationship between Jamie and Ste as they are drawn together through love and circumstance. Thomas Law as the sporty, popular Ste is a bundle of energy, constantly on-the-go, reflecting a deep desire to escape an abusive home life. Sam Jackson’s exceptional Jamie is more cerebral – almost furtive – with hidden strengths that come to the fore as the relationship deepens.

Charlie Brooks’ presence on this tour is not simply celebrity casting, although the EastEnders star will undoubtedly be a draw for those unfamiliar with the play. Brooks’ Sandra may be brassy and occasionally plays to the gallery for laughs but this is underpinned with a genuine grasp of the role. This Sandra is ambitious and vulnerable, and Brooks’ confrontational scenes with Jackson are among the most satisfying of the play.

Gerard McCarthy as the ineffectual boyfriend, Tony, and Vanessa Babirye as the Mama Cass-obsessed neighbour, Leah, work all the better for keeping their ostensibly comic roles grounded. Harvey’s script may occasionally seem faintly nostalgic but underlying themes of social frustration, sexual awakening and domestic violence will undoubtedly resonate with today’s audiences.

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Fresh, energetic cast breathe new life into Nikolai Foster’s production but ultimately the play is the star here
Paul Vale
Paul has been writing for The Stage since 1998 as a critic and feature writer. He is also part of The Stage's Edinburgh Fringe review team.