Review: Beautiful Thing, Sound Theatre

Jonathan Harvey’s urban gay fairytale remains his best and funniest theatrical work to date and is further enhanced by this confident production.

As the 15-year-old neighbours whose friendship turns into full-blown love, the doe-eyed intelligence of Jonathan Bailey’s Jamie works perfectly alongside Gavin Brocker’s sport-obsessed Ste. Both actors provide a depth to the relationship far deeper than the dialogue would otherwise suggest.

They are eclipsed though by the female leads. Michelle Terry plays the Mama Cass-obsessed neighbour Leah as unlikable as she can, ensuring that the second act switch of character, where she becomes the ultimate in loyal friends, works flawlessly. Sparks fly between her and Jamie’s mother Sandra, the ultimate heart of the piece, whom Carli Norris plays with pitch-perfect ferocity and tenderness throughout.

In support, Steven Meo does well to lift hippy artist Tony out of the caricature he is painted on the page, forming a well-rounded and sympathetic outsider whose chilled out approach to problem solving saves the day when all about him are reduced to verbal and physical battery.

This production is likely to be the Sound Theatre’s last, before the bulldozers move in this autumn to replace it with a soulless hotel complex. In addition to the starlit finale on stage, Beautiful Thing creates the ultimate in happy endings for its venue as well.

This review first appeared in the August 3, 2006 issue of **The Stage**

July 19-September 9
Author: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Tony Frow
Producer: NML Productions
Cast: Jonathan Bailey, Gavin Brocker, Steven Meo, Carli Norris, Michelle Terry
Running time: 1hr 40mins

The BBC Governors are spastics

Does the headline of this post offend you? It should. It’s insulting not only to the subjects (the BBC Board of Governors), but to a whole section of the population. It’s an insult that was prevalent in the school playgrounds that I grew up in, but that’s no excuse. Quite rightly, if anybody bandied such an insult about on the BBC, they would find themselves in contravention of the Corporation’s guidelines on taste and decency in short order.

But now there’s another insult doing the rounds. It, too, has its etymological roots through associating a person or thing with a section of the community — and implying that, as a result, the subject of the insult is all the lesser for that.

This time, though, the BBC Governors have decided that, because it’s a term freely in use in school playgrounds, it’s perfectly acceptable for a Radio 1 DJ to use such a derogatory term.

That insult is “gay”.

Apparently, because schoolchildren now use “gay” to relate to anything substandard, it’s okay for Radio 1’s resident crap DJ, Chris Moyles, to use it too.

> The Committee noted that the word “gay”, in addition to being used to mean “homosexual” or “carefree”, was often now used to mean “lame” or “rubbish”. This is a widespread current usage of the word amongst young people. The Committee was familiar with hearing this word in this context.

The governors are well aware of why using “gay” as an insult is offensive; for some reason its ubiquity in this form excuses a racist, homophobic cunt (another offensive word, in common usage as an insult but with a very different meaning from its original one — does that make it okay, too?) like Moyles, who should be setting an example rather than following the rules of the playground.

* [BBC Appeals to the Governors Jan-Mar 2006]( (PDF)

What does Denise Pfeiffer know?

At the beginning of this week, there were a spate of letters in the Guardian on the subject of civil partnerships. One of them nearly prompted me to writein response, and the only reason I didn’t was that a previous letter of mine on the same subject was printed just a couple of months ago. I did remember, though, the name of the letter’s author: Denise Pfeiffer. Well, with a surname like that it sticks in your head.

In today’s Evening Standard, along with a typically sensible and reasoned letter from Jonathan at, Denise Pfeiffer’s at it again. Now, as far as I’m aware, the letters page doesn’t go on the internet, so I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing it. Here it is, in full (although I suspect, from my own and Jonathan’s experience, that the Standard have edited it down for length):

The Government is giving homosexual couples the same legal rights, pension, immigration and tax benefits as married couples, but where does this leave heterosexual couples who do not want to go through the process of affirming commitment through a religious or a civil marriage?

What about spinsters and bachelors in sexless partnerships, or elderly same-sex relatives who have bought a house together and have looked after each other for years? Is the Government saying that these types of relationships shouldn’t receive the same legal rights as homosexual partnerships? The one thing gay civil partnerships have not brought about is equality.

Denise Pfeiffer, Leicester

It doesn’t take a genius to work out the answer to her first question. Where does it leave unmarried straight couples? Exactly where they were before. If they can marry, but choose not to, then they have a legal equality with gay couples who can choose to marry under the Civil Partnerships Act, but choose not to. It’s a choice. It’s fantastic. If you choose not to, then fine. But starting this week, for the first time, we get the same choice. Deal with it.

Terrance, as usual, says it best (although he’s the first to admit he’s reiterating Jonathan Rauch):

If people want to strengthen marriage, then it would be much more effective to let same-sex couples marry and send the same message to everyone: if you want the rights and priviledges of marriage, get married.

So, let’s be clear. [Straight unmarried couple] Madner and Schreiner, and couples like them aren’t losing any rights. They’re losing an alternative to marriage, but they still have the right to get marriage and enjoy the benefits thereof. They still have the priviledge of having more options in protecting their relationship than same-sex couples do.

This whole thing irks me. There is a whole coterie of people who rise up against gay couples getting any form of legal protections, and yet call themselves Christian. And yet, what they are doing is ensuring that people at their lowest ebb – when they or their loved one is ill, incapacitated, dying – are more vulnerable than they need to be. That’s not Christianity, that’s the complete opposite.

Incidentally, it turns out that Denise has her own Wikipedia entry! Rather coyly, she describes herself (oh come on, who else is going to write about her?) as “press officer for a UK media watchdog” – sounds really official, doesn’t it? Almost like she works for Ofcom or something. In actual fact, it’s MediaMarch – which Nick Barlow describes, quite aptly, as occupying “the part on the Venn diagram where Mediawatch and Christian Voice intersect”.

Civil partnerships: the fight’s not over

A plain language summary of the issues contained within the Government’s white paper on civil partnerships for same-sex partners. The consultation paper went on to form the basis of the Civil Partnerships Act, which came into law in 2005. Written for UK.

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like we’re finally on the road to having legally recognised relationships between gay or lesbian couples.

The Government’s Women and Equality Unit, part of the Department of Trade and Industry, today unveiled its white paper, **Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples**. The consultation document outlines how the Government sees gay and lesbian couples’ rights being safeguarded and extended until they match those of married straight couples.

Under the proposals, which will affect England and Wales (with some knock-on effects in Scotland and Northern Ireland), couples would have to sign a civil partnership register, to be kept and maintained by the same council register offices that currently handle marriages. The bad news for anybody who’s signed one of the non-legally binding registers local councils have instigated around the country is that you’ll have to go through it all again: none of these registers will automatically get promoted to legal status. Which is a good thing, as there are so many rights and responsibilities attached to partnerships that we shouldn’t assume everybody who wanted to sign a decorative piece of paper would be happy signing one with strings attached. For those that do, however, there’ll be another license fee to pay.

The full document stretches to nearly 90 pages, and covers most of the common areas that we think of when discussing the disparities between married, straight couples and gay couples. But it also dispels some of the myths. For all the talk about ‘next-of-kin’ rights, particularly when one partner is taken ill, there is no such thing as the ‘next of kin’ in law. The paper notes that this causes much confusion, both for patients, their relatives and hospital staff. The Government are going to ensure guidance notes to NHS staff take account of same-sex relationships, but that’s not something that has to wait for a change in the law to take place.

Another issue the paper tackles head-on are people’s concerns that unmarried opposite-sex couples also have concerns over their own rights (the common perception of “common law”, like that of next of kin, being false). Quite correctly, in my view, it believes that the needs of unmarried couples, regardless of gender, are an entirely separate legal issue.

Whether it’s prison visiting rights, parental responsibility, or your rights should your partner die, basically if it’s available automatically to married couples, it will also be available to registered couples. The similarities extend to break-ups — dissolution of a civil partnership could end up as costly, both financially and emotionally, as divorce, and in exactly the same ways.

Indeed, most of the ramifications of a civil partnership scheme boil down to the same thing: money. If you and partner register your relationship, the state will assume that you pool your incomes and calculate benefit entitlements accordingly – just as they do for straight couples who marry.

One major difference will be in state pensions. Everything about this area of the law moves incredibly slowly. At the moment, current pension law is some of the most sexist legislation we have, dating back to the times when the husband went out and earned the pennies, while the wife stayed at home sprouting kids and cooking everybody’s dinner. Thankfully, that’s changing, but it means that gay and lesbian registered couples will only start achieving parity with married partners in 2010, with full equality across the board only achieved once state retirement ages equalise between men and women in 2020.

To all intents and purposes, the state will recognise you for what you probably already regard yourself – a family. Indeed, it’s incredibly gratifying to read the statement: **”The Government proposes that registered partners should be treated as a single family unit.”** None of this “pretended family relationship” nonsense that Section 28 tried to saddle us with: we’re real, we’re families. And about time, too.

* Originally published on [ UK](

Le Fate Ignoranti

* Originally published on [ UK](

Antonia and Massimo have been married for fifteen years, but are still very much in love. With no children and only a small circle of friends, their relationship is so intense that, when Massimo gets knocked down in a car accident, Antonia’s life falls completely to pieces. Neglecting her family and friends, her pain increases when she discovers a love letter to her husband written on the back of a painting called ‘The Ignorant Fairies’.

In her obsession to find out the identity of this mystery woman, Antonia is shocked to discover that her husband’s lover was, in fact, a man. Not only that, but Massimo and his boyfriend Michele had been together for seven years, creating a large network of close friends — an extended family that Antonia, despite herself, begins to find herself drawn into.

Thus, the scene for director Ferzan Ozpetek’s latest film is set. Le Fate Ignoranti is a powerful discourse on the nature of friendship and family, and what place love has when the boundaries between the two become less distinct. Antonia (played by award-winning actress Margherita Buy) travels a complex emotional journey, starting off completely resenting Michele (Stefano Accorsi) but gradually realising that she has more in common with him than she ever did with her husband. Still, she finds it impossible to stop grieving, and her palpable pain at seeing Michele laughing and joking — and finding possible new lovers — is gut-wrenching.

In less confident hands, Michele’s extended family could come across as a collection of hackneyed stereotypes: a prostitute, a male-to-female transsexual, a good-looking man who is struggling with his anti-HIV medication — the staple of many a poor gay melodrama. However, with Ozpetek (director of Hamam: The Turkish Bath) at the helm, and a cast of supporting actors that never hit a wrong note, the course of Antonia and Michele’s growing attraction towards each other remains completely believable, wholly involving and heart-achingly resonant right until the closing credits.

There are precious few films that, after one viewing, will encourage you to drag your friends along to see it again with you. Le Fate Ignoranti is one such film: a sweet, uplifting tale that stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema.

A Dangerous Thing, by Josh Lanyon

Originally published on UK

A group of university archaeologists are camped out in a Californian forest. One of the team, of Native American descent, is convinced the place is haunted – and the weird nighttime sounds that are spooking them all out are slowly convincing the rest of them.

It sounds more like the setup for an episode of Scooby Doo than a murder mystery, but the latest novel from Gay Men’s Press enters areas that Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Mystery Machine crew’ would never dare approach.

In A Dangerous Thing by Josh Lanyon, bookseller-turned-crime writer Adrien English escapes out to the Pine Shadow Ranch, bequeathed to him by his beloved grandmother, in the hope of overcoming his writer’s block and to sort out in his head his frustrating relationship with the S/M-obsessed LAPD detective that he met in Lanyon’s first book, Fatal Shadows.

Continue reading “A Dangerous Thing, by Josh Lanyon”

The Ropemaker’s Daughter, by Virginia Smith

Originally written for UK

We’ve all told little white lies on a first date. First impressions matter, we’re always being told, so it pays to come across as interesting as possible. A little hint of thrill in one’s job here, a dark secret in a slightly-murky-but-not-threateningly-so past there. After all, if the relationship doesn’t go anywhere it’s not going to matter, and if it does, well, your new partner will look over such indiscretions. Right?

Wrong — at least, for the heroine of The Ropemaker’s Daughter, an amazing first novel by Virginia Smith. Rebecca is a habitual liar, concocting elaborate past histories with which to enthral men, safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to get to know her and so will never find out the truth — that she’s little more than a Southampton librarian. This is all well and fine, until she meets someone who’s an even better liar than she is. He claims he’s Adam, Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend who she dumped a year earlier, but she knows differently for two reasons. Firstly, he looks nothing like her ex — but more significantly, the real Adam had thrown himself off a cliff ten months earlier.

Rebecca enlists the help of Paige, a woman who also knows the fake ‘Adam’, to find out just who he is and why he’s tormenting her by posing as her late ex. As they do so, Rebecca finds out more about herself – including an increasing attraction to Paige.

Lovers of Barbara Vine will adore Smith’s plotting. The story propels itself along, with no twist ever feeling forced or unnatural. While the same can’t necessarily be said of some of the characters. Paige’s backstory, for example, is peppered with unusual and unbelievable cardboard cutouts. These, however, don’t detract from the sense of dramatic urgency.

The ending possibly suffers from being a little easy to guess, but with all great mystery novels it’s how you get there that matters, and ‘The Ropemaker’s Daughter’ takes you on a fantastic ride.

The Sacrifice, by Gordon Linton

Originally written for [ UK](

Anybody who’s grown up gay in a small village will know how important it can suddenly become when you meet someone like you; someone who shares your secret. Greg Chaley, the hero of new novel The Sacrifice, finds out when he meets Kit, in his school choir.

Two years older than he is, the androgynous older boy is immediately aware that Greg is different; not because he’s gay, but because, like himself, he has supernatural abilities. At first, Greg is sceptical. It is only after wishing a dreadful fate on his homophobic music teacher, who subsequently suffers a horrific car crash, that he begins to believe that Kit may have a point and that he really is not like other men.

Gordon Linton’s debut as a novelist follows the path of Greg’s dalliance with black arts through school and on into university. Whenever dark magic is used in fiction, there’s often a strong link with sex (Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s lesbian couple of Tara and Willow, concocting powerful spells together in their bedroom, being just one recent example). It’s the same case here: as Greg’s powers begin to grow, he meets and falls in love with the handsome Phillipe, only to find that their passionate lovemaking is channelling his powers into performing acts of criminal – and fatal – evil.

If the whole premise sounds hokey, it’s redeemed by the absolute seriousness with which it’s taken within the framework of the novel itself. When the plot dips into pure melodrama, the fact that the reader’s own scepticism is echoed by Greg’s own thoughts helps to propel the story onwards.

As the story is moves on to its inevitable climax, Linton for the most part manages to keep on the right side of the line that divides the fantastic from the faintly ridiculous. One of the least believable elements, though, is the manner in which the villain of the piece is despatched. While the method is just about plausible within the framework of the book, the fact that it needs to be explained a few pages later on is maybe a sign that its execution is weaker than it should be.

All in all, The Sacrifice is a satisfying, if at times undemanding, read.