Landmark Gay Plays #1 Beautiful Thing

This month we’re looking back on some of the best gay plays ever made in honour of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales and LGBT History Month in the UK.

Beautiful Thing (1993)

by Jonathan Harvey

The comedic tale of teenagers in love is set during a heatwave on a rundown council estate in Thamesmead. Coming out is at the emotional heart of the urban fairytale of Jamie and Ste. Their neighbour loves listening to Mama Cass Elliott songs: It’s Getting BetterMake Your Own Kind of Music and Dream a Little Dream of Me.

Beautiful Thing is seminal for being feel-good when the gay plays at the time were taking on doom and gloom stories and the AIDS crisis. Few had happy endings. At the time, there was no equal age of consent (21 for gays, 16 for straight teens) and the tabloids perpetuated homophobia.

Lyn Gardner compared the experience of watching it to “driving up a motorway at 100 miles an hour”.

Harvey was a 24-year-old secondary school teacher when he wrote the play and a little known writer. Harvey: ‘I just thought “It’s got nothing to do with my experience of being gay, I need to tell a story that shows what being gay and working-class is really about.”  It was written from a sense of outrage and that’s probably why it’s as good as it is.’

Beautiful Thing premiered at the Bush in 1993 prior to a National Tour, a season at the Donmar Warehouse and a transfer to The Duke Of York’s in The West End. The play was subsequently made into a film by Film Four.  It sold out the first five-week run at the Bush and won the prestigious John Whiting Award in 1994.

Jonathan Harvey in Close Up Magic: 40 Years At The Bush Theatre: “The Royal Court had rejected it. Hampstead weren’t keen, and the National felt there wasn’t enough angst… If there’s one thing the Bush had under Dominic [Dromgoole]’s rule, it was good taste.”

1993 Original Cast: Mark Letheren (Jamie), Sophie Stanton (Leah), Patricia Kerrigan (Sandra), Jonny Lee Miller (Ste) and Philip Glenister (Tony)

1993 Tour and Donmar Warehouse Cast: Mark Letheren (Jamie), Sophie Stanton (Leah), Amelda Brown (Sandra), Shaun Dingwall (Ste) and Richard [Hugh] Bonneville (Tony)

1994 Duke of York’s Cast: Zubin Varia (Jamie), Diane Parish (Leah), Amelda Brown (Sandra), Richard Dormer (Ste), Tony (Rhys Ifans)

Boys lying down

Jonny Lee Miller (Ste) and Mark Letheren (Jamie), 1993 Bush Theatre

Next blog, next week: Angels in America

Interested in LGBT lives on stage? Come see Hir by Taylor Mac or Of Kith and Kin by Chris Thompson in 2017.