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Beautiful Thing review at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol – ‘as uplifting as ever’

Tristan Waterson in Beautiful Thing at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. Photo: Mark Dawson
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Bristol was an early pioneer of post-war housing estates, so the city’s Tobacco Factory Theatres provides an excellent choice for this 25th anniversary production of Beautiful Thing, Jonathan Harvey’s iconic story of gay teenage love amid the high rises.

Artistic director Mike Tweddle struggles to convey the difficult times faced by the LGBTQ community in the 1990s, but he overcomes this with the masterly introduction of a 26-strong community choir, both linking the narrative and illuminating Harvey`s theme of young love rising above its surroundings.

The touching coming-of-age relationship takes place between Jamie, a bright 15-year-old more often than not in trouble with his  single mother Sandra, and next-door neighbour Ste, a year older than him and driven from home by his abusive father.

Tristan Waterson, making his professional debut as Ste, and Ted Reilly, as Jamie, bring an appealing vulnerability to the pangs of first love. But the characters around them, although entertainingly brash, border on parody at times.

Phoebe Thomas, as Sandra, conveys a fighting spirit through her compelling love for her son. However, along with the high decibel family friend Leah, played by Amy-Leigh Hickman, also making her debut, and Finn Hanlon`s hippie hanger-on Tony, she does tend to swamp what little narrative flow there is.

Set in-the-round by designer Anisha Fields with clever use of the original factory pillars, Beautiful Thing may not be as revolutionary as it was 25 years ago but it remains as uplifting as ever.

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