Five beautiful things about playwright Jonathan Harvey
Wed 4 Oct, 2023
Beautiful Thing, the pivotal coming-out and coming-of-age play of the 90s, is arriving in our Courtyard theatre on 18 October. To celebrate its honest, evocative and uplifting themes, we're sharing 5 blogs over 5 days from members of the LGBTQ+ community in Leeds talking about their own 'first love' and 'coming out' stories.
My name is Rob, I’m 47 (how did that happen?), from Newcastle but a long-time resident of Leeds, and a cis gay man. I was 17 when Beautiful Thing was first released and it perfectly reflected so many aspects of my life at the time that I developed an emotional attachment to it, which has remained with me ever since.
In response to my life experiences, I matured young, developing survival instincts just to get through. I never found my sense of belonging in school settings, always acting up, running away from home, brushes with the police, all the typical behaviour that we now associate with children in families experiencing domestic violence. Not surprisingly, I related strongly to the character of Ste.
On the flip side, my nana was my sheltering rock and my mum my best friend, always protective, always trying to keep me away from the worst of my dad. These amazing women were my inspirations, my role models and the people who shaped the best side of me into the compassionate person I am today.
I knew from a very young age that I was gay. My first boyfriend (lasting all of 2 months) happened when I was 14, I ‘came out’ to my friends in college at 15, told my family at 16 and, shortly after, met the person who would become my first love.
My parents had split up (finally) by the time I reached 16, and this shared experience solidified the connection with my mum. I was exploring the Newcastle gay scene by this time, becoming a bit of a regular face at the Village, Powerhouse and Rockshots – including taking Mam out drinking with me, introducing her to my current love interest and my scene friends (one of whom she stayed friends with right up to her passing in 2021). She was my best friend, and this made me strongly relate to Jamie in Beautiful Thing too.
There swiftly grows a raw defiance in Ste and Jamie – them versus the rest of the world. I knew that feeling; growing up on council estates and having to act tough to fit in. But also being confidently proud of yourself and your sexuality, the slight arrogance you develop to reassure yourself that you’re going to be OK and life will be good.
I met my first true love by the time I was 17, while the age of consent was still 21 for same sex relationships. In 1991, 169 men who’d had sex with another man were convicted of underage sex in England and Wales, and 13 of them sent to prison. In 1994 it was lowered to 18 (in the year I turned 18, saving me from three years of theoretical law breaking), but we had to wait until 2001, when I turned 25, for an equal age of consent.
Thirty years on, I’m so excited to see the show on the Courtyard stage at the Playhouse; a reflective reminder of where I’ve come from, at a time when I can also celebrate who I am today.
Thanks to Rob of Angels of Freedom and Kirsty from Bi+ Leeds Social Group for their invaluable support in gathering these stories together.
PRINCIPAL CAPITAL AND FAMILIES PARTNER
PRINCIPAL CAPITAL AND ACCESS PARTNER
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