Beautiful Thing

January 13, 2009By Nick WoodsArchive

Kitsch Coming Out

beautiful thing, paris
Tadrina Hocking as Sandra and Simon Hubert as Tony.

Beautiful Thing, Jonathan Harvey’s seminal work about the coming together and coming out of two teenage boys living in public housing in southeast London is something of an urban Brokeback Mountain but with a happier ending. It has has been translated into French and given a new lease on life in a worthy and enjoyable co-production by the Paris-based theater company Drama Ties and the city-owned Vingtième Théâtre.

The play tells the story of sensitive outsider Jamie and sporty young hunk Ste, who, despite the grayness of their surroundings, find their way over the rainbow and into each other’s arms during sweltering summer in the early 1990s, with an emotional “Mama” Cass Elliot soundtrack as the musical backdrop to their story.

Jamie is the son of feisty young single mum Sandra, while Ste is forced to live with an abusive, alcoholic father and drug-dealing brother, neither of whom is seen on stage. After Ste receives a particularly violent beating from his brother, Sandra invites him to stay over in Jamie’s bedroom. The boys sleep head-to-toe the first night, but their interest in each other gets the better of them and leads to their first kiss on the second night.

Their love story develops and – after Jamie returns home drunk one night from a gay pub and is questioned by his mother about where he has been – is blown out into the open. This leads to fresh turmoil for Ste, but Sandra provides both boys with the reassurance they need.

The main setting for the play, apart from Jamie’s bedroom, is a claustrophobic concrete landing in front of three doors on a low-rise housing block. The characters can barely get away from each other: Jamie and Sandra have Ste and his family on one side and Leah, a drug-taking flake with a Mama Cass obsession, on the other. And Sandra’s attractive, neo-hippie boyfriend Tony turns up every day to give a heterosexual punch to the proceedings.

The play owes its pace, energy and humor to the endless bitching, bickering and exchange of caustic remarks, particularly between Sandra and Leah. Rudimentary French speakers should be forewarned that the dialogue comes thick and fast. Paris-based British director Kester Lovelace notes tht the humor was the most difficult element of the original play to transpose into a French version of the play: the set, costumes and characters remain essentially British (you can well imagine yourself in the “new town” of Thamesmead in southeast London), but translator Pascal Crantelle had to bring in a whole new bag of jokes that would appeal to French tastes. It was clear from the audience’s response at the play’s première in Paris that he had done a good job, but with a little willing suspension of disbelief, you can imagine the characters are still speaking in English.

The youthful cast offers generally solid performances. Matila Malliarakis as Jamie, the campier of the two boys, fits his role slightly better than Ivan Cori as Ste, the soccer player who has more difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality. It was hard to believe in their love affair, little heat seemed to pass between the lovers. Tadrina Hocking as Sandra is consistently strong, as is Simon Hubert as Tony. Leah is credibly played by Aude-Laurence Clermont, though you have had enough of her by the end.

That said, this is a warmhearted production with a wonderfully kitsch ending: the two boys, now out and proud, dance romantically together on the landing to the sound of Cass Elliot singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” while Sandra and Leah look on benevolently. The lights dim and the disco ball starts to turn. This is a play I could sit through again.

Nick Woods

Beautiful Thing: Vingtième Théâtre, 7, rue des Plâtrières, 75020 Paris. Métro: Ménilmontant ou Gambetta. Tel.: 01 43 66 01 13. Performances Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Through March 1. Tickets: €12-22.

© 2009 Paris Update

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