Phil's place

Beautiful Thing at the Loft



Beautiful Thing
Monday 11 – Saturday 16 June, 2001 at 7.45pm

Beautiful Thing

An urban fairytale
by Jonathan Harvey

Directed by Phil Reynolds

This page provides some material relating to the Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa, production of Jonathan Harvey’s fabulous play Beautiful Thing. Here you can find a copy of the main programme details (including information about the cast), some photos of the production, copies of the main newspaper reviews, and a look at the poster.

I’ve also added some resources that might be of interest either to others mounting their own production of Beautiful Thing, or simply to dedicated fans of the show! These include a list of the updates we made to the play text, and an indication of the music cues we used over and above those mentioned in the script.


The Company

Jamie....Alex Freeborn
Leah....Rachel McArthur
Sandra....Mary MacDonald
Ste....Matt Sutherland
Tony....Christopher Dobson
Stage Manager....Sue Murdoch
Assistant Stage Manager....Helen Wall
Wardrobe....Mary MacDonald
Properties....Angie Collins, Carol Remmington
Lighting and Sound....Loft Technical Team
Set Design....Phil Reynolds, David Ellis
Construction and Painting....David Ellis, Tim Elmore
Production Manager....David Bennett
Theatre Technician....Tim Elmore
Press and Marketing....Amanda Glanville
Front of House Photographs....Helen Ashbourne
First Aider....Alan Joyce (Theatre Barman)

Cast profiles

Alex Freeborn (Jamie)

Alex Alex began acting with Coventry Youth Operetta and the Belgrade Youth Theatre, where he was in the professional production of Willy Russell’s Our Day Out. Other shows include Chicago, Guys And Dolls, The Crucible and Cinderella. He has also appeared in Good King Wenceslas at Warwick Arts Centre, and made his television debut in last year’s series of Peak Practice.

Alex is a member of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, and is studying performing arts at Stratford College.

This is his first appearance for the Loft Theatre Company.

2006 update: Soon after playing Jamie, Alex landed his first major film role, as Sam Lowbridge in Anita and Me. He went on to study full time at the East 15 Acting School, from which he graduated with a BA in Acting in 2006.

Matt Sutherland (Ste)

Matty Matt was last seen at the Loft in William Shakespeare’s Pericles playing a variety of roles, most of which seemed to require him to wear very little. He has also appeared as a nasty Nazi in See How They Run and the even nastier Blifil in Tom Jones; and directed Athol Fugard’s Playland in the Studio.

For the Talisman Theatre, Matt has appeared in A View From The Bridge, The Anniversary and The Madness Of George III.

He is a founder member of the Loft’s improvisational comedy team, Impromania, and can often be seen in their shows making a twit of himself and putting unpleasant things in his mouth in the name of comedy.

Mary MacDonald (Sandra)

Mary Mary joined the Loft in 1979 at the bottom of the social scale, as the maid in Pygmalion. Subsequent roles have included Dorothy (The Wizard Of Oz), Portia (The Merchant Of Venice), Paulina (Death And The Maiden) and Pegeen Mike (The Playboy Of The Western World). Mary’s favourite role to date is Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney. She was thrilled to be asked to be in Beautiful Thing – a single parent South London barmaid with aspirations seems a great career move!

Mary is a founder member of the Tír na nÓg Theatre Company.

Rachel McArthur (Leah)

Rachel Rachel studied English and drama at Loughborough University before training as a drama therapist.

As a member of the Loft Technical Team, Rachel has operated lighting and sound on many productions, and is currently our Studio Technician. In addition, and in a desperate bid not to miss out on any action, she has also worked behind the bar, stage managed (Mother Courage, Popcorn), acted (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wild Honey) and directed (Sometimes An Angel).

Christopher Dobson (Tony)

Chris After three years working abroad, Chris returned to England in November 1999 to work at NFU Mutual in Stratford. Since then, he has tirelessly exasperated his colleagues and bosses with talk of the theatre, happily finding outlets in Stratford and now Leamington.

With Second Thoughts he took the roles of Ross/Ketch in Our Country’s Good and Orlando in As You Like It before playing Sikes in Stratford Operatic Society’s production of Oliver! at the Swan Theatre in October 2000.

Chris’s debut for the Loft Theatre Company was in March this year, as Biff Loman in Death Of A Salesman.

Phil Reynolds (Director)

Phil Sensing growing public unrest at his interminable run of stage appearances, Phil has lately diversified into directing, and has also composed a number of original music scores for the theatre. He is a founder member of the Loft’s improvisational comedy troupe Impromania; belongs to our Lighting Operation and Front Of House teams; and is the present Editor of the programme/newsletter that accompanies each show.

Many Loft members are looking forward to seeing him being treated very badly indeed by Helen Wall in our October production of Stephen King’s Misery.

Phil earns a living as a software engineer.

Rehearsal photos

Click on a thumbnail below to view a larger version of that image in a new browser window. (The images are low-resolution digital video stills, but they should give you an idea of what the production looked like.)

(Pictures by Richard Comer)


Director’s Notes

‘My Uncle Bert, who died when I was twelve, told me that my great, great aunt was the first tattooed lady in Britain and her daughter became a Bluebell. I like to think that that’s where my love of show business comes from!’
Jonathan Harvey (1968 – )

It’s just occurred to me that the last play I directed for the Loft – Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, in 1998 – shares one of its major themes with Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing. Both plays feature ordinary characters living a secure but unfulfilled existence, who see an opportunity to change their lives for the better – and risk everything by daring to go for it.

Fifteen-year-old Jamie is in most respects an average teenager, living with his single mum on a south-east London estate. But what nobody knows except Jamie – indeed at the start of the play he barely knows it himself – is that he is slowly but surely falling in love with Ste, the boy next door, who lives with his drunken bully of a father and equally violent older brother. One night Ste takes refuge in Jamie’s room – and life for both of them will never be the same again.

First performed in 1993, the play and its subsequent film adaptation have become a worldwide cult hit, with web sites, internet discussion groups and email lists all devoted to this sunny, romantic coming of age story. The reasons, I think, lie in the way Harvey delicately blends a sense of realism – allowing his audience to identify with the characters and their situation – with an upbeat, optimistic view of what life should be like. For gay theatregoers in particular, the combination is irresistible.

‘I set out for positive imagery, a happy ending – a little rose-tinted, so it would give people some hope,’ Harvey has said. I vividly remember dancing in the street after seeing the play at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester in 1994; and the film version has helped thousands of gay teens to ‘dream a little dream’ of their lives being better for having watched Jamie and Ste dance their way out of the closet, giving them hope and making them feel a little less alone.

Oddly enough, the play may never have been written if Harvey hadn’t had a bad case of acne as a teenager in his local youth theatre in Liverpool. ‘Rather than act and have people look at me, especially to pay money to look at me... the Liverpool Playhouse had a competition for new writers, so I thought I’d go into that.’ The resulting first play, The Cherry Blossom Tree, involved a garish blend of suicide, murder and nuns.

After leaving Hull University, Jonathan became a teacher in a sprawling comprehensive school in Thamesmead, experience which would provide him with useful background when he came to write Beautiful Thing. But a call from out of the blue resulted in a commission to write a play for the Royal Court Young People’s Theatre, which set him on his writing career. In 1993 he gave up teaching for good, by now successful enough to put ‘writer’ on his passport without feeling self-conscious walking through Customs.

His early successes with Babies, Boom Bang-A-Bang and Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club have been followed more recently by plays such as Guiding Star, Hushabye Mountain and two series of the sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme. Recent months have seen the openings of two new works: the play Out In The Open and the musical Closer To Heaven, written in collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys.

But he remains best known for Beautiful Thing – a winning, old-fashioned love story with a fresh and contemporary twist for anyone who ever dared to risk everything for happiness and won.

Phil Reynolds

What the papers said

Reviews of the original London production

Like most of those about me, I followed the action with my heart in my throat – and, while applauding, blinked back the odd tear.
Financial Times
The theatrical equivalent of a whoop of joy.... Seldom has there been a play which so exquisitely and joyously depicts what it’s like to be 16, in the first flush of love and full of optimism. Truly a most unusual and beautiful thing.

Reviews of the New York production

Only a theatregoer with an ice cube where his heart should be would remain indifferent to the plight of Jamie and Ste, the teenage heroes of Jonathan Harvey’s endearing, lopsided smile of a comedy.... Facing a hostile world together, they emphatically answer Harvey’s question: Yes, that’s what love is.
New York Times
One of the most satisfying evenings of theatre I have experienced in a very long time... a gentleness and a power that will amaze you time after time. See it once, see it twice. See it with someone you love. See it alone. Just be sure to see it.
Theatre Reviews Limited

Reviews of the Loft Theatre production

Beautiful Thing is good stuff

Gritty, inspiring and very daring for the Loft Theatre, the highly acclaimed Beautiful Thing is only running for another two days so hurry to see it.

Without doubt the finest show of the year so far at the Loft, Jonathan Harvey’s tale of two South London council estate schoolboys’ struggle with homosexuality and the art of urban survival is smothered in dark humour and as funny as it is thought provoking.

A first class script doesn’t always guarantee first class delivery, but this polished cast had a seasoned audience in the palm of their hands. Alex Freeborn as Jamie, Rachel McArthur as Leah, Mary MacDonald as Sandra and Matt Sutherland, who stepped in at the last minute as Ste, all gave shining performances.

Greg Aris, Leamington Observer

Loft at the top of its form

This is a spiky, racy and sharp-witted story of teenage love set on a low-rise estate in south-east London and a must-see for the area’s theatre fans.

The play and its subsequent film adaptation have become cult hits.

It’s beguiling stuff – the story of Steven and Jamie’s unlikely yet burgeoning gay relationship offers a blend of stark realism in the abuse and prejudice the pair suffer, but also a sunny optimism of the way things should be and some absolutely wicked one-liners.

It really shouldn’t be as much fun as it is – Ste is beaten by his alcoholic family, the next door neighbour and Mama Cass enthusiast, Leah, overdoses on acid and it’s clear bringing up a family in that environment would be a battle, never mind coming out.

But the effect is heartwarming – this is a good old fashioned love story first and foremost, just set in hell and featuring two Clark Gables.

And this production really does the mix justice, particularly the central pair. Alex Freeborn gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time as Jamie – believable, full of uncomfortable angst and edge but with a really soft centre.

Matt Sutherland, stepping in to play Ste at short notice, was a perfect foil – stubborn, troubled, doesn’t say too much – the more tough of the two.

The writing is excellent, but the pair added more to it than that – your heart had butterflies for everything to work out.

Mary MacDonald as Jamie’s long-suffering mum, her slightly pathetic partner Tony (Christopher Dobson) and the mentally troubled Leah (Rachel McArthur) – all were top-rate in a stripped down and concise production that never dragged.

It was a pleasure to hear the tutting of more conservative elements of the crowd replaced by murmurs of appreciation. For everyone else this was top entertainment from start to finish.

Rating: *****

Tom Sales, Leamington Courier


Here are two versions of the poster for the show (click on the thumbnails to see larger images). The one on the left is a mock-up I did myself to give the Loft publicity department an idea of what I wanted. The one on the right is the official version. See which one you prefer!

Poster A Poster B

Updating Beautiful Thing

Beautiful Thing includes many contemporary references to TV celebrities, pop bands, game shows etc. However, these kinds of things date very quickly. The play was first performed only eight years ago – yet who now remembers Wincey Willis?

For a time, I debated whether to keep the play set in 1993. This would not only solve the problem of the out-of-date cultural references, but would also remain true to the legal situation facing Jamie and Ste when the play was written. Back then, the age of consent for gay male relationships in the UK was still 21 (it was reduced to 18 in 1994, and finally equalised with that for heterosexuals – 16 – at the end of 2000) and the play highlights the preposterousness of the law as it stood then.

But Beautiful Thing is a play about people, not politics. The prejudice suffered by gay people of all ages, and the fear and loneliness it can cause – particularly to gay teenagers – still exist in 2001. And so I decided to set the play now: partly to keep it fresh and up-to-date, but also to remind those in the audience who cared to ponder such things that prejudice exists not in laws, but in people’s hearts.

The following are the changes we made to the dialogue.

Act I Scene 1

  • Sandra and Leah have this exchange:

    Leah: My mum fancies Bill Beaumont off Question of Sport.
    Sandra: He’s cuddly.
    Leah: That’s not the word I’d use.

    Burly rugby player Bill Beaumont was for many years a team captain on the long-running BBC celebrity sports quiz A Question Of Sport. The current regular team captains are snooker player John Parrott and footballer Ally McCoist. As McCoist is a popular pin-up, particularly among gay men, I changed Leah’s line to use his name, and Sandra’s "He’s cuddly" to "He’s lovely".

Act I Scene 2

  • Jamie’s insistence on knowing where Tony met Sandra eventually elicits the lame response "Gateways". This supermarket chain in recent years has rebranded itself as Somerfield. To update the line while preserving the staccato rhythm on which the humour depends, I changed it to Kwik Save.

  • In the list of celebrities who have cried in public, I changed Anne Diamond to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Act I Scene 3

  • Sally from Coronation Street is still there, despite rumours for a year or more about her leaving the show. These always threw me into a panic, because some of the references hinge on the actress having the same first name as the character she plays. Fortunately, she’s hung in there! Apparently, she’s now married with kids in real life, but we left the quotes from Hello! untouched.

Act I Scene 4

  • Leah’s example of clean living pop stars was changed from East 17 to Westlife.

  • The defunct quiz shows Bob’s Full House and Mastermind became The Weakest Link and Fifteen-To-One respectively.

  • Tony says "Remember University Challenge? (Beat.) Crap show." This long-running academic quiz was cancelled some years before the play was written in 1993. However, by the time Beautiful Thing was filmed in 1995, the show had been revived, and so Harvey changed the line in the screenplay to: "Anyone see University Challenge last week? (Beat.) Me neither." I used the same alteration.

Act II Scene 1

  • Gary Lineker is perhaps getting a little long in the tooth now to be thought of as "pukka" by two teenage boys, so we changed him to David Beckham. (Sorry Gary.)

  • We left the references to Cagney & Lacey unaltered, as they’re very much a part of the scene; and I’m told the show has had reruns on cable recently enough for Jamie to have seen it when he was in juniors.

  • The date of Sandra’s South-East Thames Barmaid of the Year Award was changed from 1985 to 1993.

Act II Scene 3

  • Ste’s example of an out gay celebrity was changed from "whatsisname out of Erasure" (i.e. Andy Bell) to "whatsisname out of Boyzone" (i.e. Stephen Gateley).

Act II Scene 4

  • As the "specialised subject" quiz Mastermind is no longer on air, I changed Sandra’s line "you wanna get on that Mastermind" to "you shoulda been on that Mastermind". (I doubt if anyone noticed.)

    (July 2003 update: wonder of wonders, after a gap of many years Mastermind is back on TV!)

  • Sandra’s retort "And my name’s Wincey Willis!" was changed to Carol Vorderman.

The music

Besides the music specified in the script, I used additional pieces where necessary to cover scene changes and the like, and also in a couple of places to enhance atmosphere. In the list below, cues marked * are those we added.

  • Opening Act I, and Leah’s singalong in Scene 1: It’s Getting Better (Mama Cass)
  • End Scene 1 into Scene 2: New World Coming (Mama Cass) *
  • End Scene 3 into Scene 4: California Earthquake (Mama Cass)
  • Background to Scene 4 (after completion of California Earthquake): Sing For Your Supper and The "In" Crowd (both Mamas & Papas) and One Way Ticket (Mama Cass) *
  • End Scene 4 into Scene 5: The Sound Of Music (main title, from the original movie soundtrack) *
  • During part of the Peppermint Foot Lotion scene: Beautiful Thing (from the original movie soundtrack by John Altman) *
  • End Act I: Sixteen Going On Seventeen (from The Sound Of Music as above)
  • Opening Act II: I Call Your Name (Mamas & Papas) *
  • End Scene 1 into Scene 2: I Can Dream, Can’t I? (Mama Cass)
  • End Scene 3 into Scene 4: Make Your Own Kind Of Music (Mama Cass)
  • Under dialogue at end of Scene 4, and into Scene 5: Beautiful Thing theme (as above) *
  • Scene 5: Dream A Little Dream Of Me (Mama Cass)
  • Curtain call and audience playout: Welcome To The World and Move In A Little Closer, Baby (both Mama Cass) *

Useful links

This page last updated: 24 August 2009   Home | Performing | Travelling | Quizzing | Living  
Email Phil