Later this year Thomas Law and Sam Jackson will star as Ste and Jamie in Nikolai Foster’s production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing.
Following a successful West End run and short tour in 2013, Beautiful Thing will tour the UK again from March this year. Beautiful Thing is a glorious urban love story between two young men set on an inner city housing estate.
Thomas is best known for playing Peter Beale in EastEnders between 2006 and 2010. His other screen credits include Casualty, The World's End and Sadie J, whilst on stage Thomas starred as the title role in Peter Pan at the Lowry in 2010.
Sam is best known for playing Alex Henley in Skins and Jack in Drifters. He has also made appearances on screen in Holby City and The Syndicate. On stage Sam played Billy Casper in Kes at the Derby Theatre in 2013.
I recently spoke to Thomas and Sam about discovering Beautiful Thing for the first time, what it’s like to be part of something that means so much to so many people and why they can’t wait to get into rehearsals…
How much did you know about Beautiful Thing before being cast in this production?
Sam Jackson: I actually first auditioned for the London production. I didn’t know anything about the play so for research I watched the film and got an idea of the setting and what it’s all about. I then read the play and have watched the film a few more times.
Thomas Law: I also didn’t know much about it before. I read the script because I potentially had an audition for the London run but unfortunately I was busy so wasn’t able to do it. After reading the script I could just tell that it was absolutely magnificent. It’s a powerful script about people who are young and gay or bisexual or unsure. It opens a lot of doors for people, but of course caused an uproar! It’s a dream to be part of it.
For many people Beautiful Thing is far more than just a play or just a film. Are you feeling the pressure?
TL: I think our hardest critics are Tom (O'Connell, producer) and Nikolai (Foster, director) as they grew up on Beautiful Thing and it has been a very important part of their lives. In some respects we’ve got to carry on the tradition of telling this story in the right way, but also we have to add something new to it. It’s a massive challenge!
SJ: It’s interesting because Nikolai was saying that when they were in London everyone knew the play and knew the film, but then when they toured to different cities they received different reactions – some places still found it quite shocking. It affects different people in different ways and I can’t wait to see what that’s like.
The full cast: Vanessa Babirye, Thomas Law, Sam Jackson, Charlie Brooks & Gerard McCarthy
What have Nikolai and Tom been like to work with so far?
SJ: It’s amazing to watch both of them working because they know what they want to do with it – they know their intentions, whereas we’re new to this play. We’re still ‘umm-ing’ over our words but Nikolai and Tom are the opposite.
TL: Absolutely! I know their knowledge of the play is going to enhance our performances. I find that in our age group there are a lot of people who are genuinely concerned about how being called gay can be an offensive thing. I also find that I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes – I don’t want to say anything that could be offensive. Stonewall (who are working with Beautiful Thing) are doing a fantastic job at raising awareness. Hopefully this play will educate people too, and it’s great to have Stonewall involved.
I know everyone always discusses the issues and how moving it is, but Jonathan’s writing is also incredibly funny! The audience are taken on quite a ride! What can the people who haven’t seen the play or film before expect?
SJ: Exactly, it’s moving, it’s funny – you have really sincere and sensitive moments, dramatic moments and then it’s also very funny. It’s a really gritty play and everyone should come and see it.
TL: Comedy is a massive part of it; I think it keeps people on their toes. It’s fun and heart-warming with a good message.
SJ: I think there are scenes where you don’t know whether to laugh or be upset, and that’s all because of Jonathan Harvey's writing. Every line that he has written is brilliant.
What has it been like to meet everyone in the cast for the first time?
SJ: It was great to do a photoshoot and get everyone together! It’s weird because we were cast ages ago and then had to wait months to get everyone together, and now we have to wait a few more months before we start rehearsals. It feels like we’ve already started doing it!
TL: But I guess having this time means we can do a lot of prep and make sure we get it one hundred percent right for audiences and fans of the show.
Both of you have done a lot of work on screen; have you been wanting to do more theatre for a while?
SJ: Well as an actor you kind of take whatever work you can get [laughs]. Whether it’s screen or theatre it’s just great to be working! It’s nice to have a job you can look forward to. This is such a long job, and as an actor you don’t get to have that stability all the time. Screen jobs are often shorter, so it’s nice to do a play and have five/six months work planned. It’s really exciting! I prefer doing theatre to screen because you have the audience there and you can feel the energy straight away. You film a TV show or a movie and then it goes away and you don’t see the final thing until it eventually comes out, but when you’re doing a play you get an immediate reaction which I love.
TL: I really enjoy screen work if I’m lucky enough to do it and if the right projects come up. In terms of theatre I did a musical – Peter Pan in Manchester’s Lowry Theatre – which I loved. I was very nervous about going into it, but once I got started I didn’t want it to end. Beautiful Thing is a play I wouldn’t think twice about taking on because it’s got such a great message and is so powerful. It’s going to stretch my acting abilities and I can’t wait to get going!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
The Beautiful Thing UK Tour opens at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury on 23rd March 2015. The tour then visits Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester and Cardiff before concluding in Brighton at the Theatre Royal on 25th July 2015. Please visit www.beautthing.com for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Anton Belmonte