Dream a Little Dream of Me
Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing – an urban fairytale about two young men who find each other in a London housing estate – is being revived in an exciting new Australian production, coinciding with the play's 20th anniversary. By Lachlan Bennett.
The nineties were a tumultuous time for the queer stage. With the HIV/AIDS epidemic and gay rights movement reaching boiling point, there was no shortage of politically-charged and tempestuous works when it came to exploring gay lives and issues – think Larry Kramer’s A Normal Heart, Terrence McNally’s Love! Valour! Compassion!and Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America.
So when Beautiful Thing debuted in London in 1993, it immediately struck a chord with the gay community – a community, no doubt, eager to escape the harsh realities of the day in the confines of the playhouse.
“There was a lot of really angsty, aggressive theatre about meaty topics that the gay community was dealing with,” says Brandon Martignago, the director of the latest Australian productionof Beautiful Thing.
Written by UK playwright Jonathan Harvey, Beautiful Thing – an urban fairytale about two boys who find each other in a London housing estate – is a simple but heart-warming take on teen romance and young love.
“It is a story about a relationship and how a relationship can grow and blossom, and die and fade, and that everything can change in the head of a pin,” Martignago tells SX.
“But on a more personal level, Beautiful Thing is more about the idea of being in love with someone we really love, rather than someone we are told we have to love.”
Beautiful Thing is being revived by independent theatre company Burley Theatre, to mark the play’s 20th anniversary. It tells the story of 16-year-old Jamie and his neighbour Ste. It is a friendship like every other, until Ste takes refuge in Jamie’s home in order to escape his abusive father. From there, the boys embark on a journey of love and discovery, but not before enduring whole lot of bumps and potholes along the way.
While the play eschews complex issues such as HIV/AIDS, homophobia and self-harm, it does explore more universal themes such as self-discovery, coming out and being true to one’s self.
“Beautiful Thing was everything [Harvey] was thinking, feeling and wanting to see in gay theatre. So he wrote it with this idea of simplistic love, and that was at the core,” Martignago says. “And because it wasn’t an angst-written play, people did see it and did start asking questions, saying, ‘Well, love is possible at that age. Why can’t it just be accepted that way?’”
Since its debut, Beautiful Thing has been staged numerous times, including on London’s West End. It was adapted into a feature film in 1996.
Martignago says despite the play being quite stylised towards the social and political climate of 1990s working class London, it still has relevance in contemporary Australia.
“Recently, with the whole movement towards marriage equality and this idea of same-sex couples having children, Beautiful Thing has had this resurgence in meaning because it allows people to sit there and get back to the basic idea of equal love,” Martignago says.
“It’s the one thing that the gay community really needs right now – stories like this projected to the mainstream community that aren’t all about sex, drugs and Stonewall.”
In mounting the production, Martignago has stayed true to the original play in terms of its setting and staging. And he has cast two relatively new actors, Michael Brindley and Luke Willings, as the leads to capture and convey the budding emotion of the play.
“The rawness in both of them really translates through to the main themes of the play, the concepts and the language within it,” Martignago says.
Brindley, who plays Jamie, is confident that the play will still resonate just strongly with audiences today as it did 20 years ago.
“There’s this beautiful moment where Jamie and Ste are in bed and become intimate for the first time. It’s a little bit risqué but the honesty of that teen romance is what I’m sure audiences will enjoy,” Brindley says.
“Old or young, gay or straight, I’m sure everyone in the audience will find something that strikes a chord with them.
“That is why the play has been so successful for the past two decades – it’s a classic.”
[Image] Beautiful Thing ... Michael Brindley and Luke Willings.
Beautiful Thing, February 14 – March 2, Seymour Centre, Cleveland Street, Darlington. Tix $35-$27 from www.seymourcentre.com.