Review: Beautiful Thing, Arts Theatre

“Some things are hard to say”

Somewhat appropriately, this 20th anniversary production of Beautiful Thing arrives in London just as a writer, who is carrying much of Jonathan Harvey’s legacy in giving life to a rich tapestry of diverse gay characters, has just closed his own gently touching play of young gay romance Jumpers for Goalposts (look out for its UK tour in the autumn). In the 20 years since Harvey put pen to paper, there have been significant legal, cultural and social changes so that gratefully, we are now in a world where many aspects of being gay are indeed easier. But at the same time, we should not forget that the battle is far from being won – there’s a constant struggle against fear, prejudice, violence, that should never be underestimated, no matter how many ‘gay plays’ may appear in our theatres.

What makes Harvey’s play so special is that it represents one of the first times in which gay characters took centre stage in a play that wasn’t particularly issue-driven and instead, serves up a straight love story (badumtish). Ste and Jamie are two regular working-class South London lads, everyday schoolboys living next door to each other and over the passage of a hot summer, finding that they’ve an awful lot more in common than they ever realised. And that’s essentially the sum of it: ostensibly a ‘gentle’ topic, but the slow but steady discovery of their sexuality and what that is going to mean for their futures, and the worlds of emotion that can accompany the decision to come out are huge, potentially life-changing matters and it is Harvey’s sensitive but assured handling of this that makes Beautiful Thing the timeless success that it is and will continue to be for at least another 20 years more. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Thing, Arts Theatre”

Review: A Day at the Racists, Finborough Theatre

“People aren’t out and out racist any more, not like they used to be”

It’s been a bit of a political weekend for me, what with Moonfleece and A Day at the Racists, a new play by Anders Lustgarten premiering at the Finborough, both looking at the encroachment of the British National Party in East London and how this rise in fascist politics could have happened. But where as Moonfleece let the politics form a backdrop to a different story, A Day at the Racists is not afraid to show its teeth and really examine what motivates people to considering the BNP as a serious political option.

Set in Dagenham, dyed-in-the-wool Old Labour stalwart Peter is struggling to deal with the disillusionment of his daily life. This is highlighted by his son Mark’s inability to get regular work and to secure a council flat for him and his daughter, whilst Pete perceives that the immigrants in the area are having their needs met first. When a local BNP campaigner’s message, a smartly dressed British Asian woman at that, resonates strongly with him, he falls for the rebranding and the renewed sense of purpose given to him as she employs Pete as her campaign manager. Sucked into this murky world, Pete is forced to face the conflict between his new politics and old, between new relationships and his multicultural old friends and family, all the while dealing with his ultimate sense of betrayal by a country he has worked so hard for. Continue reading “Review: A Day at the Racists, Finborough Theatre”