As part of its 30th Anniversary tour, Jonathan Harvey’s Iconic, coming-out and coming of age story comes to HOME Manchester. Set in the 90s, we delve into what it’s like to be 16 and in love in a time when the subject was not talked about, where the British Government brought in a legislation banning homosexuality being promoted in schools and educators were silenced.
Following struggles of three teenagers, Jamie, a young boy who is bullies at school for being gay. Ste, a football fanatic who is always at the brunt of his brother and Father’s temper. And Leah, a misunderstood Mama Cass fan who has been excluded from school and struggling to find her way through life, seemingly alone.
When things become too much at home, Ste takes refuge at Jamie’s flat, and this is where the boys strike up a relationship and we start to delve into the consequences of this.
As 15-year-old Jamie, Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran plays the character with passion, a typical teenager who thinks they know best. I found occasionally Owokoniran was so softly spoken, it was difficult to fully hear some dialogue, causing important bits to be missed.
Raphael Akuwudike plays the vulnerability of Ste beautifully, scared of his own feelings and the outcome of his coming out and living his true life in a home where he takes a beating for just being there.
Jamie’s Mum, Sandra, played by Shvorne Marks has a great balance of humour and strictness in the role. As a single Mum who is trying to do everything possible to give her son a good life, working all hours, there will be tensions in the home life and these were played out well, erupting into a full-on fight between Sandra and Jamie, showing the frustration felt by both. I particularly enjoyed the section where Jamie eventually comes out to Sandra, it was delivered beautifully and was lovely to see both sides of the story, not only how Jamie felt but also how it affected Sandra.
Sandra’s newest boyfriend, Tony, played by Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge, just wants to fit in, be mature for Sandra but feel relevant and young to fit in with Jamie.
The standout of the evening came from Scarlett Rayner as Leah. With so much humour, passion, joy and a huge love for Mama Cass, Rayner played a blinder in this role. I felt like Leah’s character was explored more than any other in the show and I thoroughly enjoyed every second that Rayner was on stage.
I enjoy how the writing has not been updated to present age as keeping it in the 90s is so important that this generation can understand what it was like to live through those ages where it was forbidden to live as yourself and how difficult a time it was back then, and those times should not be forgotten or glazed over. And it was backed by an incredible soundtrack from the 80’s. I felt at times the piece was a little slow and could be tightened up a bit, possibly being reduced to a One act play as I felt when the interval came, it was just gaining momentum, whereas a One act play would have more of effect without breaking that drama.
Jonathan Harvey has written some incredible things over the years, but Gimme Gimme Gimme will always be my favourite and in parts, I could feel the spirit of that show in this piece, through Sandra especially with the characteristics and humour and I appreciated that immensely.
The set, designed by Rosie Elnile, was kept very simple, the front of three flats, with the cast carrying out chairs or a drying rack out with them and a bed that appears out of the wall for the bedroom, it was basic but used very well. Costumes were wonderful and perfect for the era. Lighting by Elliot Griggs was used well and helped break up sections and take us from scene to scene. I found that at times, probably due to the lack of microphones, that lines were difficult to hear, especially when dialogue was taking place inside but then the music between scenes was so loud, I jumped out of my seat.
Beautiful Thing runs at HOME – Manchester until Saturday 11th November with tickets available from https://homemcr.org/production/beautiful-thing/
Reviewer Damian Riverol
Reviewed: 2nd November 2023
North West End UK Rating: