Tag Archives: Anthony Simpson-Pike

“Beautiful Thing” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

There is a reverential air to Anthony Simpson-Pike’s revival of Jonathan Harvey’s coming-of-age story. As a celebration of the play’s 30th anniversary, this much-loved piece is determined to please fans… and it succeeds. The romance between young neighbours Ste and Jamie has more optimism and fun than ever, so relax and enjoy.

Simpson-Pike and his cast provide studied performances that are carefully restrained. Raphael Akuwudike and Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran take the lead roles and make a suitably sweet on-stage couple. That both boys are bullied is in the background, with little time taken over potential trauma. Ste’s home life, in particular, seems glossed over, with little sense of threat from how his violent father might react to his sexuality.

Other roles come close to stealing the show. Shvorne Marks plays Jamie’s mother, Trieve Blackwood-Cambridge her boyfriend, and Scarlett Rayner is Leah, who lives next door. All three have excellent comic skills and appreciate that, while Harvey’s characters are larger than life they are not caricatures. The women, both well-written roles, make every eye roll or insult count. It’s all hugely entertaining.

Since most audience members know most of the jokes, the evening has a nostalgic feel. Of course, it is nice that people are no longer shocked by two schoolboys in love (they are all over Netflix, nowadays). But it is tempting to wonder whether updates might have been made. The characters are normally cast as white, and Simpson-Pike has changed this, but I only spotted one reference to the alteration and surely more might have been done?

Instead, there’s an air of celebration and an admirable emphasis on openness that is cleverly brought to life by Rosie Elnile’s fine design. The communal nature of the housing estate setting would warm a 1960s architect’s heart. Having the boys’ bed come out onto the flat’s balcony is a nice, suggestive, touch. And the production’s finale, where Elnile delivers a neat surprise, reminds us how stirring Beautiful Thing is and ensures everyone leaves the theatre happy.

Until 7 October 2023


Photo by The Other Richard

“The P Word” at the Bush Theatre

The letter in the title of Waleed Akhtar’s play covers two insults – slurs against people from Pakistan and homosexuals. The play makes important political points with clarity and skill. Still, the best moments come when the writer confounds expectations.

The P Word is a close examination of two very different men. Bilal (or Billy) is British and deliberately written as unlikeable. His life is work, the gym and Grindr. It’s a harsh view of gay culture, and any humour is bitter. It takes time to appreciate the problems the character faces, a journey the author Akhtar, who performs the role, tackles superbly.

Audience sympathy is channelled towards Zafar, who is seeking asylum having fled Pakistan when his homosexuality was discovered. Esh Alladi brings an intense energy to the role, which is agitating to watch. Anxiety surrounding the future and the trauma Zafar is running from are depicted with sensitivity. But it’s moments of joy, despite everything, that add originality and appeal most. What Zafar goes through is a wakeup call, delivered with conviction, that many need to hear – and the theatre has worked with the charity Micro Rainbow during production.

The two stories are told in tandem, woven together in the skilled script and by Anthony Simpson-Pike’s strong direction. Presenting the men in such detail – so they aren’t just cases or examples – leads to examining prejudices and provides insight especially into the characters’ sad self-hatred and questionable behaviour.


The P Word gets even better when the men meet. A friendship that develops with fits and starts acknowledges how complex their lives are. The performances blossom, but will romance?

There’s tension around this love affair, some coming from the fact that the characters see themselves as an unlikely couple. And, of course, there’s Zafar’s potential deportation. To avoid plot spoilers, let’s just say the play becomes both exciting and rousing. What impresses most is Akhtar’s clever handling of the sentimental, which leads to a superb finale.

Until 29 October 2022


Photos by Craig Fuller