MiniReview: "Beautiful Thing" by Jonathan Harvey

Very classy and attractive cover, from Methuen Drama. Those eyes!

What is this Beautiful Thing?

It’s a play, written by Jonathan Harvey, first presented in London in 1993.


What is the “beautiful thing”?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the play! It’s a lovely, sweet thing. (But I think the beautiful thing may be love, in whatever form it takes.)


Tell me about the beautiful play.

It’s set on a London housing estate in the 1980s. There are only five characters, who live in three adjoining flats. Two of the characters, Jamie and Ste, are young men, boys really, about 16 years of age, who fall in love.



Don’t be cynical, it’s really sweet. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way. This has got to be one of the most charming, touching, adorable “gay” plays I’ve read or seen. These are two teenagers living in tough circumstances, in an environment where love of any kind is in seriously short supply, but they are lucky enough to find each other. Their discovery of each other’s sexuality, and their own, is gentle and understated.


It doesn’t sound very realistic. I mean, I wouldn’t think it’s easy being gay even today in such circumstances.

As far as being realistic, the play is subtitled “An Urban Fairytale,” and there is a certain magical, romantic quality about these boys’ relationship. The thing is, though, Jonathan Harvey has obviously chosen to deliberately focus on the brighter side of the situation (the beautiful thing). One senses menacing forces all around these two—which only makes their friendship that much more precious. The difficulties of gay youth are not denied, but the playwright has chosen to keep them offstage. But there is a reference at one point to Jamie having been repeatedly verbally and physically assaulted at school. And Ste lives a domestic life marked by violence, and is terrified his father will kill him if he discovers his son is gay. So the darkness isn’t denied by any means.


You really liked this play.

I loved it. And I couldn’t help thinking about Angels in America as I was reading it. I know it’s not fair to compare works of art—


Ah, go ahead.

Okay, then. Well, here’s this play, Beautiful Thing, which is so subtle and simple and moving. And then there’s Angels in America, this gargantuan epic, this grandiose spectacle, this hugely ambitious, wide-rangingly intellectual “masterpiece.” I know which of the two will stay with me, and it isn’t Angels.


Stars (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?

I’m giving it 1 star. It’s a small gem, and I adore it. 

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