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First trip to the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester is a Beautiful Thing

Royal_exchange_theatre_aw170410_5My friend Chris is a regular visitor to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and always says glowing things about it. And when I tweeted that I was going, I had some similarly fond responses back. 

And while it isn't wholly pretty, it did, I'm happy to report, completely live up to its recommendations.

If you've seen how the RSC recreate a tiered, round auditorium within the Roundhouse for their London season, imagine that but in glass and placed inside a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian building.

It means there is lots of space and plenty of pre-show seating outside the glass auditorium. Certainly no feeling of being crammed into a small space that is the intersection between the bar, loos and sweet counter like the West End. Inside the auditorium surrounds the stage with three tiers. Front row seats are low and sofa-like which is right up my street.

In fact I got to enjoy the 'sofa' in the second half as I nabbed a vacant spot during the interval to get away from the rather large gent blocking my view from my third row seat (trials and tribs of being 5ft 2).

BL1FDFEQq4_82056So strangely fitting then that the play I saw was Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing.  It's a gentle play about teenage boy Jamie's (Matthew Tennyson) sexual awakening and discovery that his feelings lean towards his neighbour and friend Steven (Tommy Vine).

This is gay issues light. There is hint of prejudice and indeed hints of domestic violence, physical abuse and neglect among Jamie (Matthew Tennyson) and his friends but essentially it is about Jamie's first fumblings and voyage of sexual discovery. A first love story I suppose.

Tennyson, fresh out of LAMDA and his great performance in Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End, does a good job as the love struck Jamie, as does Vine as wary Steven. Claire-Louise Cordwell also does a great job as feisty but caring Sandra, Jamie's mum.

It is funny and poignant and in someways refreshing to see something that isn't overtly pushing issues in your face. 

Nonetheless there was something stopping this from being a really great production. Jamie's relationship with his mum didn't quite ring true which may be a performance issue. Tennyson is very slight, fragile and sweet-looking and his mother just a little too feisty and outspoken that his teen moods, surliness and the arguments between mother and son just didn't always convince.  Although I did see a preview performance so this might change.

And perhaps the plot is just a little too light to create sufficient dramatic tension. 

I'm going to give it three and a half stars.


Matthew Tennyson, as mentioned, was in Flare Path which also starred Sienna Miller who played Mr W's unfaithful girlfriend in Layer Cake: