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Beautiful Thing – UK Tour

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For two sweet hours every evening this week you have the opportunity to be instantly transported to South London from your seat in Newcastle-under-Lyme! Not just because of where the play is set – but watching this play you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a studio theatre on the south banks of the Thames watching some exciting, edgy new work that was going to be the next big thing.

Incidentally it’s 25 years old and Tobacco Factory Theatres are based in Bristol – but what they have produced here is an authentic, gritty and powerful version of a play that went on to become a cult film in the 90s. A play that is just as relevant now as it was in 1993 – produced to such a high standard by a young yet largely established and recognisable cast.

Growing up isn’t easy at the best of times, throw in two troubled families, bullying and domestic abuse and you’ve got plenty to deal with. Jamie (Ted Reilly) and Ste (Tristan Waterson – Eastenders, Call The Midwife etc) are two young lads navigating their way through their young lives as best they can – finding themselves with thoughts and feelings that go against societal norms in the homophobic and judgmental community where they’ve grown up.

A cast of 5 deliver the entire piece on a simple set – the only real fixed points being two doorways and a basic bedroom with bed and lamp. This works particularly well with such a fine young cast drawing your attention so strongly.

Phoebe Thomas (Agatha Raisin, Doctors, Death In Paradise, Teachers etc) is a class act; strong and sincere as Sandra – a mum who is doing her best to raise her boy solo. Finn Hanlon (Mermaid, Warhorse, The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde etc) a quality casting as Tony – the “current” step dad.

Finally Ami-Leigh Hickman (CBBC The Dumping Ground, Tracy Beaker, Ackley Bridge, Eastenders, Casualty etc) is the second cast member making their stage debut (along with Tristan Waterson) as Leah. She is the only character that represents the wider community. As an actress she provides plenty of comic relief and holds the audience exceptionally well.

The New Vic is no stranger to fine actors but those who are largely recognisable from TV is more rare for the venue.

There is also a community choir that join the cast throughout who provide occasional musical accompaniment and add the sense of community that the play so often refers. This felt a little unusual at times, but there were some lovely harmonies and cool song choices that added to the general feel of the play.

Director Mike Tweddle discusses in his programme note that this play helped him see himself and the world differently and his hope that “young audiences… will take inspiration from the bravery, vision and wisdom of the wonderful teenage characters”. I would suggest this was mission achieved.

Masterful writing by Jonathan Harvey has been once again put out for yet new audiences to enjoy.

The New Vic deserves more of this. The young people of Newcastle-under-Lyme should flood to watch this (and show that there is a demand for more diverse and edgy plays) and mostly – the local audience can enjoy a production that genuinely is real life for many to a varying degree.

Reviewed at the New Vic Theatre on 30th October 2018. PG – High School Age and above. Very strong language but in-keeping and appropriate. Excellent views “all-round”.

The play will visit The Dukes, Lancaster from 6th-10th November to complete it’s short tour.

Photography by Mark Dawson