Tale of the Nineties has a modern touch at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate

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When I first saw the film adaptation of Beautiful Thing nearly 20 years ago the thing that I liked about it was that it was so spirited and joyful.

In an era when stories about inner cities and tower blocks and working class people were generally a bit grim, this was different. For one thing it was sunny.

And why not? Why shouldn’t you tell a love story set in a long hot summer in Thamesmead? And even more unusually for the time, why shouldn’t you tell a story about two young gay men that didn’t end in misery or tread a path of exploring ‘issues’? A story that’s just a love story.

The production of Beautiful Thing at Royal & Derngate in Northampton this week stars Charlie Brooks, who used to play Janine in EastEnders. In this she plays a character with much more heart. A single mum, Sandra, who may not think she is getting it right all the time, but who is determined to do the best she can for her son, even if this sometimes involves a certain amount of screeching at him.

Her son is Jamie, played by Sam Jackson and the young man who lives next door is Ste, played by Thomas Law.

Over the course of the play we slowly get to know the neighbours, including the Mama Cass-obsessed Leah played by Vanessa Babirye and Sandra’s boyfriend the well-meaning Tony played by Gerard McCarthy.

After what seemed like a hesitant start, the cast got into their stride and the audience was gradually drawn into their lives, the humour, the violence behind Ste’s front door, Sandra’s desire to fight for something better for herself and her son, the daydreams and spikiness of Leah and Tony’s bumbling attempts to make things right in his own haphazard way.

The two boys are played touchingly, with a tenderness and understatement that made their relationship seem all the more real.

Times have changed since Beautiful Thing was first performed but, references to Wincey Willis and Bob’s Full House aside, it’s got a modern touch.

Beautiful Thing is on at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton until Saturday, May 23