REVIEW: ‘A Beautiful Thing’ at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, to December 3rd

A scene from Jonathan Harvey's production of 'Beautiful Thing' at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester.
A scene from Jonathan Harvey's production of 'Beautiful Thing' at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester.

JONATHAN Harvey’s play “Beautiful Thing” is a delight.

It is very funny, cleverly written and at times poignant. Harvey’s great strength as a playwright lies in his skill at creating realistic, rounded characters and giving them believable, everyday dialogue. We recognise these people and the way they talk, and we empathise with them, despite, or perhaps because of, their use of obscenities and slang.

Teenager Jamie (Matthew Tennyson) is growing up in Thamesmead, a large area of social housing south of the river near Greenwich. He lives with his single parent mother Sandra (Claire-Louise Cordwell). Next door lives teenager Leah (Tara Hodge) and on the other side another teenager, Ste (Tommy Vine).

Leah is spiky and excluded from school and adores the music of Mamma Cass. Ste is battered by his drunken father. Sandra has a much younger lover Tony (Alex Price).

If this doesn’t sound like the ingredients for a comedy, think again. But behind the laughter and the banter, each of these characters is struggling to find a loving relationship. The cast of five are all strong and the younger actors are impressive.

I had a special liking for Leah, whose gestures and facial expressions I have seen so many times on teenage girls. Liz Ashcroft’s design subtly reinforced the idea of the terraced houses and the huge globe suspended from roof is thought provoking and effective.

Peter Rice’s music adds to the production, sensitively directed by Sarah Frankcom. It was good to see the enjoyment of the young people in the audience.

The Royal Exchange Christmas production of “You Can’t Take it With You”, by George Kaufman and Moss Hart, starts on December 7th and promises to be yet another hilarious screwball comedy the Exchange does so well.

Box office: 0161 8339833. Website: www.royalexchange.org.uk

PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN