by Jonathan Harvey.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 3 December 2011.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed & 22 Nov 2.30pm.
no evening performance 22 Nov.
Audio-described 26 Nov 4pm.
BSL Signed 2 Dec.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 November.

Urban comedy of adolescent love comes up fresh as ever.
Probably the most beautiful thing about Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play – a career-maker and arguably, to date, career-best – is that it was the first to develop a gay relationship not only amid the years of mid-teen adolescence, but among the potentially violent homophobic environs of a Thamesmead housing estate. Violence is implicit, a danger, just as police sirens are heard repeatedly in the distance.

The relationship between 15-year old Jamie and neighbour Ste, one year older, emerges gradually as they come together in a communal living-area where discontented young neighbour Leah and Jamie’s hard-talking mother Sandra are strong forces. It’s the violence of Ste’s father that leads him to share a bed with Jamie, when he seeks asylum in his house.

Their affection is less a love that dare not speak its name as one that doesn’t yet know the words. Levels of embarrassment and, in the tougher Ste’s case, rejection at what his nature’s inclining him towards, occupy the bedroom scenes where physical proximity and as much privacy as paper-thin council-flat walls allow, provoke desire.

Sarah Frankcom’s revival can’t have the intimacy of the tiny Bush Theatre premiere, with its audience packed intimately around two sides. But the Exchange stage, its floors and doors covered with painted flats, allows a distinct communal area onto which all doors open.

Comedy is rooted in the contrast between brash attack and underlying anxieties. Contrasting the two boys’ emerging relationship there’s an energetic display of survival against odds from the women (the only older man, Tony, has an outdated hippy manner to cover his weakness). At first, the voluble Leah and Jamie’s single mother Sandra seem merely outspoken working-class London sitcom characters in their vituperative backlashes.

But they develop their own various tragedy and triumph; it’s clear the older Sandra, who sees Tony off, not only has an essential heart beneath the expostulation, but is clearly organised and a business success – the hanging-basket and flowers on her balcony are joined by spectacles and accounts.

Matthew Tennyson’s Jamie is tentative and inward throughout, his mildness countered by Tommy Vine’s stronger practicality in a distinctive revival

Jamie: Matthew Tennyson.
Leah: Tara Hodge.
Sandra: Claire-Louise Cordwell.
Ste: Tommy Vine.
Tony: Alex Price.

Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Liz Ascroft.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Voice coach: Howard Hutt.
Fights: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Anna Marsland.

2011-11-22 15:08:25

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