Gritty sagas by Corrie blog editor Glenda Young, published by Headline. Click pic below!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review: Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing

Fan review of Corrie writer Jonathan Harvey's play Beautiful Thing by Coronation Street Blog reader Rachel Stevenson. Check out Rachel's blog here.

I offered to review Beautiful Thing for Coronation Street Blog as the play was written by Corrie scribe Jonathan Harvey and this revival stars Suranne Jones (Karen MacDonald) as Sandra, and Zaraah Abrahams (Joanne Jackson, factory worker, remember her?) as Leah, the stroppy girl next door. 

The play is a coming of age drama, featuring two teenage boys falling in love in the concrete jungle of a Thamesmead estate in south London. The audience was populated by men d'un certain age, in fact, the Arts Theatre is practically the only public place I've been to where the queue for the men's toilets was longer than the women's!

The theatre is small; even in the cheap seats of Row M, we had a good view of the stage, but boy, does it need air conditioning, as well as a few on-stage microphones – sometimes, especially if a character induced a laugh, it was hard to hear the next line.

The play starts up with a blast of Mama Cass, Leah's favourite singer, and we open up on a basic set of three doors to represent the three flats belonging to Leah, Sandra and Jamie, and Ste and his unseen brother and alcoholic, violent father. Pebble-dash walls, numerous electricity boxes, and an abandoned shopping trolley indicate that this is a council estate. A ventilation unit doubles up as a bedside table and the actors have to move the scenery themselves.

Ste, Jamie and Leah are awkward teens, hating old people (although “Mama Cass don't count 'cos she's dead”) but also children (“kids are c**ts”). Their ambitions lie in getting a job at the local leisure centre (Ste), to meet their real dad (Jamie) or just to go back to school after being excluded (Leah).

The play was originally staged in '93 and the film released in '96; I did wonder if it would be updated for the noughties – out with references to Grange Hill, Bill Beaumont, Bob's Full House, Erasure, East 17, Richard and Judy, Gazza, and Anne Diamond, and in with allusions to the 2011 riots and changes in the law regarding gay rights: when the play was first produced, the age of male gay consent was still 21, so writing about two 15 year old boys falling in love would have been reasonably shocking. Indeed, a charmless Tory councillor for Bexley, the London borough where the Thamesmead estate is situated, called it “sickening”. My companion thought that the play would work well set on different estates in other countries (checking Wikipedia, I see that it has been staged in France, Tasmania, Holland, Canada and even North Carolina, but it hasn't quite made it to Iran or Uganda yet).

But to set the play in the here and now wouldn't work. Leah, Jamie and Ste spend a lot of time sitting around, bored, smoking endless cigarettes, kicking a football, drinking cans of lager. Nowadays, they'd have iPads, iPods, iPhones, Xboxes etc, to stave off their teenage tedium.

I also wondered if Suranne Jones is just too gorgeous and glamorous to be the Janice Battersby-esque Sandra, who loves her kid and will do anything to protect him, but displays her affection though barbs and insults. Suranne's south London accent was excellent (better than St Ella's Mancunian) – she even pronounced the name of her son as Frankie Baldwin used to (“JAY-MEE!”) and there were some excellent bitchy witticisms between Sandra and Leah as they fought for Jamie's attention:

Leah: Just when we was thinking of having a sex orgy.
Sandra: My son's got more taste, love.

Sandra: Anyone got a match?
Leah: Yeah, my arse, your face.

Sandra to Leah: A leopard never changes its spots and a slapper never changes her knickers.

I can imagine Blanche spikily spouting that line to Liz McDonald. There was also a meta-reference to Corrie as the two boys read an article about the soap in Hello! magazine... “So she's called Sally in real life and on Coronation St?!”

Suranne's tough physicality was also used wonderfully as she fought with her son, bringing back memories of her slamming Tracy up against the church wall.

The fifth character is Tony, Sandra's hippy dippy boyfriend, played by the Jack Whitehall-esque Oliver Farnsworth, a tourist in working class estate life. He also got some great lines:

Tony: I met her on planet Earth. What is 'place' anyway?
Jamie: Where did you really meet her?
Tony: Tesco's.

And:
Leah: Your bird talks to me like I've got c**t written on my forehead.
Tony: You shouldn't use words like 'bird'.

Jamie appears less shy and sweet than my memory of the character in the film; he is more lairy and has better banter. Although he is a bullied, football-hating wimp, his mother's strong love and his inherited inner conviction, give him the confidence to pursue Ste, to accept, after some inner struggle, his homosexuality, and to have the assurance that Ste loves him as he loves Ste.

This is the play that launched Jonathan Harvey, leading him eventually to Corrie and the similarity in humour and tropes (tough working class women done wrong by men, gay teens, stroppy mares – I could imagine Kylie Platt as Leah)) can be seen here.

The play ends with Ste and Jamie, Sandra and Leah, dancing on the estate in view of the other residents whilst Dream A Little Dream Of Me by the Mamas and Papas plays. It was, well, beautiful.

With our thanks for this fab review from Coronation Street Blog to Rachel Stevenson.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this review. Thank you! It's fascinating to hear about the writer's voice before he started at Corrie. Eye-opening. I wish I could see the show!

-- ELK in Canada

GRITTY SAGAS BY CORRIE BLOG EDITOR GLENDA YOUNG, PUBLISHED BY HEADLINE. CLICK PIC BELOW!

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GRITTY SAGAS BY CORRIE BLOG EDITOR GLENDA YOUNG, PUBLISHED BY HEADLINE. CLICK PIC BELOW!