Article Title:Review: Beautiful Thing for Valentine's night
Author or Credit:Matt Akersten
Published on:15th February 2008 - 01:48 am
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Story ID:5588
Text:Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey Dir: Richard Neame Produced by Auckland Musical Theatre at Westpoint Performing Arts Centre Until 22 Feb 2008 Like director Richard Neame, my first experience of Beautiful Thing was seeing it on the big screen during 1997's Hero Festival, with its writer Jonathan Harvey in attendance. I was 19, and making slow progress on coming out. The movie really helped. I'd seen a few gay-themed movies, but this one had something the others didn't, and something I wanted for my experience at the time. A happy ending! So my friends and I had high expectations going into the Performing Arts Centre next to MOTAT 2 (the sequel!). And having seen the movie version a few times, it was difficult to 'switch off' the film's images in my mind, especially at the beginning. The London council block housing location is represented simply and effectively on stage - except for the green plastic lawn chairs which are very Kiwiana! The actors try very hard to retain their South London accents and do an impressive job in general, with snatches of Kiwi twang sneaking out a little by act two. The simple plot and realistic script will be familiar to fans of the movie, with only a few scenes featuring slightly different action and dialogue. Lots of great one-liners are offered up, most of them delivered well by the cast, although by act two it's the comedy costumes worn by Charlie Barker as Leah which get the most appreciative response from the opening night audience. Perhaps understandably considering the theatre company's musical background, their comedy is better than their conflict. Arguments in the film version escalate convincingly, but on stage here they only work well when played out for laughs. The climactic battle between Jamie and his mother seems to get suddenly serious for no reason and then when they plunge into violence, the audience is left hoping against hope there's some sort of punchline on its way to relieve the awkwardness. It was great to see the younger characters were played by young-enough actors - no Beverly Hills 90210-style 20-something 'teens' here. Matt Baker as Tony seemed a lot too youthful, and Holly O' Flaherty as Sandra also at times didn't seem world-weary enough for the battle-axe mother role. But the whole cast of five is generally very good, with Ciarin Smith the genuine star in the making. His thoughtful, nuanced portrayal of Jamie lifted the whole production, and I'm sure his good looks won him several fans in the audience. But even though Smith played a stripper in another recent production, we don't get to see much flesh here - disappointing my friends in the audience, they complained to me afterwards! The direction is unobtrusive and the Mamas and the Papas music matches that of the film, with faithful adherence to the original screenplay. When the lights dip in between each scene, you can tell where and when Sandra will appear by her lit cigarette end! Jamie's small bed in his bedroom is realistic, but I think more could have been made of him trying to get comfy and actually lying down next to Ste, rather than just sitting up in bed all the time in those intimate bedroom scenes. It was a privilege to spend Valentine's Day in such talented company, and I will certainly follow what Auckland Musical Theatre does in the future - as I'm told the whole cast are great singers too. Beautiful Thing is on until 22 February. Go along and rediscover that flush of first love. Matt Akersten - 15th February 2008    
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