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calendarBeautiful Thing

by Jonathan Harvey
Directed by Stephen Heatley
September 20-30, 2006
Frederic Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada
All shows start at 7:30 p.m.

Vancouver Theatre Premiere: September 20 – 30, 2006

Beautiful Thing is a sharp, tart English comedy of manners.
- New York Post, 1999

This Queer urban-fairytale is a funny, bittersweet story about the sexual awakening of two boys growing up as next-door neighbours in run down London Council flats. Deftly combining comedy with ardent drama, Beautiful Thing has a script that sings - full of characters that abound with attitude, energy, frankness and humor. At turns tough and tender, the play combines fantasy and reality to truly capture what it is to be sixteen, in the first flush of love and full of optimism. Set during a heat wave, the mood is buoyed by the music of Mama Cass.

First performed in ‘93 at the Bush Theatre in London, Beautiful Thing was a West End hit, sold out its five-week run and won author Jonathan Harvey an Olivier nomination as well as the John Whiting Award. This celebrated play was subsequently made into a film which developed a cult following. With many Theatre, TV and Film credits to his name, Harvey is also on the writing team for the British TV classic “Coronation Street”, where he was drafted in to guide the program’s first gay character.

Stephen Heatley, DirectorRestricted from theatrical licensing by Harvey until recently, Beautiful Thing has just completed several revivals including runs in London’s West End, Chicago and San Francisco. The Vancouver premiere is directed by Stephen Heatley, Theatre at UBC’s newly appointed Program Chair. Before joining the faculty at UBC, Heatley spent twelve seasons as Artistic Director of Edmonton's Theatre Network where he directed over thirty world premieres. Most recently Heatley was Associate Artistic Director of the Citadel Theatre and he has directed for numerous companies in Edmonton, Saskatoon and across Canada.

The production stars BFA Acting candidates Ira Cooper, Kevin Kraussler, Evan Frayne, Olivia Rameau, and Joanna Rannelli and features sound design by award winning professional composer Patrick Pennefather. Under the guidance of theatre artists on faculty, Ron Fedoruk (Set & Lighting) and Alison Green (Costumes), the creative team consists of students from Theatre at UBC’s renowned Design program: Lauchlin Johnston (Set), Jane Loong (Lighting), Tammy Chan (Costumes). Stage Manager for the production is Natalie Brougham.

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Jonathan HarveyJonathan Harvey

Hailed as "the new theatrical voice of his generation", Jonathan Harvey was born in Halewood, Liverpool in 1968. His father was a postman who went to college late in life and went on to become a social worker. Mrs Harvey was a family planning nurse, which Harvey cites as "always quite a saucy job for my mother to have when I went to secondary school. When it came to sex education, I knew all about it!"

Harvey's first serious attempt as a playwright was in 1987. Fuelled by the attraction of a £1,000 first prize to young writers from the Liverpool Playhouse, the result was The Cherry Blossom Tree, a garish blend of suicide, murder and nuns. This effort won him the National Girobank Young Writer of the Year Award.

the new theatrical voice of his generation

Feeling very encouraged, he went on to write Mohair (1988), Wildfire (1992) and Babies (1993), the latter winning him the 'George Devine Award' for that year and The Evening Standard's 'Most Promising Playwright Award' for 1994. 1993 also saw the premiere of Beautiful Thing at the Bush Theatre in London. Beautiful Thing was a West End hit, sold out its five-week run and won author Jonathan Harvey an Olivier nomination as well as the John Whiting Award. This celebrated play was subsequently made into a film which developed a cult following.

Restricted from theatrical licensing by Harvey until recently, Beautiful Thing has just completed several successful revivals including runs in London's West End, Chicago and San Francisco.

With many Theatre, TV and Film credits to his name, Harvey is also on the writing team for the British TV classic "Coronation Street", where he was drafted in to guide the program's first gay character. Television and film works include: West End Girls (Carlton); Love Junkie (BBC), the 1998 hit/cult comedy series starring Kathy Burke and James Dreyfus, Gimme Gimme Gimme (Tiger Aspect) and Murder Most Horrid (BBC).

Harvey also wrote the book for Closer to Heaven, a stage musical with songs and music written by the Pet Shop Boys. Closer to Heaven ran for nine months at the Arts Theatre in London in 2001 and recently ran in Australia in 2005.

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Article excerpted from: The Times, Entertainment section July 15, 2006

Coming out again
Jonathan Harvey, writer of Beautiful Thing,
tells Tim Teeman about his new play and bringing gay life to The Street

As a boy Jonathan Harvey was mad about drawing. One day he did a sketch of some cavemen, which failed to impress his teacher. “Jonathan Harvey, cavemen did not wear stilettos,” she admonished him crisply. But he didn’t learn, and, in one guise or another, cavemen in stilettos have been figuring in his writing ever since. Harvey’s skill is to find the exuberant in the everyday, a glitter-ball in the drabbest council flat.

I — along with a hundred or so other gay men — found myself holding my breath when Jamie gives Ste a massage; crying when Jamie comes out to his mum; and laughing at Harvey’s vinegary vulgarity

Principally, you think about Beautiful Thing, the play that made his name 14 years ago. The story of Jamie and Ste, two teenage boys who fall in love during a baking hot summer on a rough South London estate, was first staged at the Bush Theatre and later made into a wonderful film. When I went to see it a few months ago at the Sound Theatre in London (where it is being revived this summer), I — along with a hundred or so other gay men — found myself holding my breath when Jamie gives Ste a massage; crying when Jamie comes out to his mum; and laughing at Harvey’s vinegary vulgarity.

Sophie Stanton, who played Jamie’s lioness of a mother in the original stage production, returns for the latest adaptation, and, given the intimacy of the space, you feel smack bang in the centre of the drama. Harvey has seen it performed in Rome, “with a porn star playing the mum”, but until now has forbidden a second London production (Shelagh Delaney did the same after the initial success of A Taste of Honey, a play and film Harvey adores). “I like to protect the memory of something,” he says, also knowing that any new production labours under the shadow of the wonderful film. He was persuaded of the merits of the new producers by Dominic Dromgoole, now the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, who first commissioned Beautiful Thing at the Bush Theatre.

The 38-year-old Harvey is both quietly spoken and scabrously funny

The 38-year-old Harvey is both quietly spoken and scabrously funny, with a croaking Liverpudlian brogue: Lily Savage with added soot. After Beautiful Thing he had some success with the Eurovision-themed Boom Bang-a-Bang, while his TV series Gimme, Gimme, Gimme was a hit. But he wrote no new plays — until now, as he will reveal.

Two years ago he became a Coronation Street writer, drafted in to guide the Street’s first gay character, Todd Grimshaw, to love and enlightenment. The actor playing Todd left and Harvey has had more fun with the flamboyant gay barman Sean and villainous Tracy Barlow, who, in an exquisitely vicious attack, described the Rovers landlady Shelley as “a hippopotamus with split ends”.

How does a mainstream soap accommodate someone as prolific as Harvey? He admits that it was hard in the first place to watch his “uniqueness chiselled away at” by the script editors. “I’m involved in a slight balancing act of how I can keep to the tone of the show and have a bit of fun for myself,” he says.

Harvey was born and brought up in Liverpool. His father was a social worker, his mother a nurse. Previous generations were dock workers. “The family stories are about poverty, not being able to afford shoes, dying of influenza.” He was happy at home, where “lots of love made me feel special”. He didn’t want to leave that “and go into the real world where people were mean to you ’cos you were camp. That’s when some unhappiness crept in. At primary school I wanted to play with girls rather than boys. I used to wear white socks — the boys’ uniform was grey socks, but the girls wore white.”

He had a “helmet of hair”, loved taking part in school theatrical productions and won the Space Hopper Championships at a Butlins in 1976. “First prize was a typewriter or a record player disguised as a vanity case. I chose the vanity case.” He had no records to play on it, so his mum bought him a Wurzels album. He has never forgotten the pain of being called a “f****** poof” by a girl in the corridor one day. He didn’t say anything or argue back. There was no Beautiful Thing-style unrequited love.

Living the clubby life of a gay twentysomething, I was too scared to contemplate Aids

But Harvey had started writing. His first play, The Cherry Blossom Tree, was performed at the Liverpool Playhouse. While he was at Hull University studying psychology and education his second play was performed at the Royal Court in London (he remembers finishing an exam and rushing to catch a train to make the first night). He was inspired by Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh, and was hugely affected by Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Living the clubby life of a gay twentysomething, “I was too scared to contemplate Aids. Suddenly to be trapped in a theatre and confronted by it challenged me. The moment when two men dance with each other was shocking and exciting.”

He originally set Beautiful Thing in Liverpool but wrote it while working as a teacher in Thamesmead, South London, so knew how the kids spoke, and set it there. He laughs. “Also, the play includes a line from Sandra: ‘I went robbing for that boy.’ I didn’t want audiences to think people in Liverpool went thieving.”

The scenes between Jamie and his mother are based on conversations Harvey had with his mother when he came out at 18. “I saw a production in Manchester recently and suddenly not hearing it with London accents made it quite painful to watch because suddenly it was like my own family. I wish I’d come out later in a way. I didn’t have the vocabulary to teach them anything at 18. They had gay friends, were quite cool about it, but when they asked: ‘Why do you think you’re gay?’ I struggled to find an answer beyond ‘Why do you think you’re straight?’ ” When Harvey wrote the play, he was “a child really. Now it’s like looking at an old diary. Revisiting it is like seeing an old lover.” Is it a millstone? He laughs merrily. “Noooo. I just think: ‘Why can’t I write something like that again?’ It’s such an economical piece of storytelling: five actors, one cheap set.”

Harvey enjoyed fame at the start. “But I got panic attacks. I had to have aisle seats in theatres. I didn’t use the Tube for years. I didn’t take trains either. From being a mild-mannered teacher to becoming this famous person was great, but I never really wanted to have a lot of success early on — I was 25 and had two plays on in the West End. I was dragged along. It led to a feeling of: ‘Where do I go from here?’ I was flavour of the month, then suddenly not.”

He sought therapy after losing his temper with a driver who had taken his car-parking space — “My dog weed itself it was so scared, so I knew that I had to do something.” Even his search for help had a Harveyish absurdity to it, with a brusque doctor shouting across a crowded waiting room to a receptionist: “Mary, do we have a clinical psychotherapist for this young man?” Harvey was worried that therapy might blunt his writing, but it did not. However, “life backfired” on him again when — and he smiles mordantly here — he chose to take his first Tube journey in almost ten years on July 7 last year, and found himself stranded alongside hundreds of other passengers on that awful morning.

How to put this tactfully? Isn’t he a little “big” for the Street? “I was offered Coronation Street a few times but always said no. I thought it was beneath me, to be honest,” Harvey says. “But it’s really nice to be writing for something that you know is going to be on screen.” He likes writing for Sean. “The fans think he’s a negative stereotype because he’s camp. But he’s got a dick. He’s unapologetic. The hard thing has been coming from theatre, where you handpick people and feel connected to a show, to somewhere where there are lots of actors, some good, some not so (booo, he won’t name names). You quickly learn who says your lines correctly and who doesn’t.” The producers “are always trying to tone down my campness”, he claims.

Harvey admits to feeling “awestruck” the first time he walked on set. “It’s like the family silver. To go from the Bush Theatre with 80 people watching to 12 million is something.” The street itself is two-thirds of the size of a real street, “so most of the actors are really small. Sally Webster is like a doll. Cars rarely park on the street because if they do they dwarf at least three houses.” His only niggle is that Corrie “swallows up stories so quickly. I loved Raquel having a dinner party and saying: ‘You can’t go wrong with boil-in-the-bag.’ That to me is more memorable than Maya setting fire to Dev’s shop.”


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