With the new Above The Stag theatre opening this Friday (1 Jun) with a special 25th anniversary production of Beautiful Thing, Dave Cross spoke with writer Jonathan Harvey ahead of the play’s revival.
Hi Jonathan, does it feel like 25 years since Beautiful Thing first opened?
It does and it doesn’t. In some ways it feels like yesterday but the world and my waistline have moved on.
What are your memories of the opening of the play and the reaction it caused?
I remember being very nervous, but the reception from the first preview was rapturous. Really uplifting.
What was the inspiration for writing it in the first place?
The age of consent laws at the time were 16 for straight people and 21 for gay men. The House of Lords kept debating it and referring to sodomy and buggery, and I thought it was worth telling a story that was about falling in love instead. Also, because it was the early 90s, most gay plays had someone dying in them and I wanted to tell something that had more of a happy ending.
Although you had other plays that were successful before Beautiful Thing, is it fair to say that it changed your life and career?
It did, yes. It opened doors for me into film and TV that were previously shut.
Twenty-five years on, it feels like its themes are more relevant than ever?
That’s not really for me to say, that’s for the audience. But sitting in a rehearsal room working with actors it doesn’t feel too dated. Well, apart from the references to East 17, Wincey Willis and Bill Beaumont being on Question of Sport.
This 25th anniversary production is opening in the brand new home of the UK’s only full time LGBT+ theatre company. Is that important to you and how aware of Above the Stag were you?
I was aware of the theatre but I had never been. I am very flattered that they not only want to do this play, but a season of my plays throughout the year. I’m too big headed to turn that down.
Can you tell us about this new production? Have you made any changes to the script or changes to the casting of characters?
No changes to the script, and I am thrilled we have our first black actors playing Sandra and Jamie. It’s about time. I really admire and support the Act For Change movement and what they stand for, so it was time to put my money where my mouth is. I hate seeing posters or adverts for plays where everyone is white. It bears no resemblance to the world I live in.
We know you are a busy man with writing for Corrie etc, and we know you have the Dusty Springfield musical coming – what can you tell us about that?
It’s a musical about her life, loves and career, and features all her big hits. Her life was remarkable. A lesbian ahead of her time who stood up for what she believed in – she was deported from South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences – and I can’t wait for us to share her story. We open in Bath on 23 June before a short tour. Details can be found at dustyspringfieldmusical.com.