Greenwich & Docklands Festival
Reviewed – 4th July 2018
“Visually, ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a feast of glowing colours, striking shadows and moving images”
Community – its infrastructure, its buildings, its people and its history – is at the heart of this new dance-theatre production of Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Beautiful Thing’. Taking place entirely in and around a block of the now-abandoned Binsey Walk estate (famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’), Bradley Hemmings and Robby Graham’s production brings a coming-of-age love story home to its original setting – and what a setting.
The story will be familiar to some: Two Binsey Walk lads overcome parental woes and scholastic strife to find love. Hemmings and Grahams have crafted an almost wordless show that episodically retells the development of Ste and Jamie’s relationship like a greatest hits medley of the original film. Obviously intended to please crowds of Thamesmead locals and members of the LGBTQ+ community old enough (sorry!) to remember the 1993 film, the show relies on full-blown spectacle to impress and amuse, making use of the large outdoor space to bring in the 180-bus to Greenwich, cars, a VW campervan and even a JCB pickup. Visually, ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a feast of glowing colours, striking shadows and moving images. The housing block becomes a canvas for colourful and explosive projections that look cool but fail to contribute more than just showing the action we are already witnessing up-close. When Sandra learns her son could be gay, photos and film clips of her young son invite the audience into her internal world and proves one of the most moving moments of the show.
The choreography is fairly one-dimensional and underdeveloped, not quite catching the nuances of the story or characters. Despite having a huge playground, the energetic and impassioned performers are often trapped in small rooms and get lost in the spectacle of light and sound. Phil Supple’s lighting design is astonishingly good, giving each house and room a colour and identity, turning the block from dull estate to vibrant gay club in a flash.
Binsey Walk itself is the star attraction here. Some hate British post-war architecture, but here the building is let loose, representing something more than the sterility and poverty usually associated with British housing estates. The team could definitely have gone farther than just giving what it knows its audience will recognise and love. Ste and Jamie’s story feels somewhat dated, and this production taps into nostalgia rather than a re-telling of the story for a new generation of young gay men.
This historic site is about to become victim to the bulldozer. Crossrail looms. Communities and how they interact in Thamesmead, and indeed London, have changed a lot in twenty-five years. But by literally letting the audience see how the communal spirit tucked inside a place like Binsey Walk can produce a positive story of diversity, understanding, support and love against the odds, we are reminded that community is still out there for us to find, and it’s through others that our true selves can come into their own.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Camilla Greenwell
Greenwich & Docklands Festival until 7th July