Friday 8 August 2014

My Night With Reg - Review

Donmar Warehouse, London


Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Robert Hastie

My Night With Reg is a powerfully perceptive observation of being a gay white Englishman in the 1990's. The spectre of AIDS is cutting a swathe through the community, yet the addictive pulses of love, passion and promiscuity beat fiercely. The play focuses on 6 men all connected, be it through shared times at university or simply drinking together at the local pub. All are friends, some are lovers and most have had a passing or lingering sexual relationship with Reg. Kevin Elyot’s drama revolves around a flat warming and two wakes - the first of which is for Reg, who whilst he never appears on stage, befalls an AIDS-related death that marks the play's portentous gravitas.

Robert Hastie directs with vision, but it is casting director Alastair Coomer who has done an immaculate job with a company that gel magnificently. Jonathan Broadbent plays Guy - a camp, cookery-focused, home builder. Desperate for love, but looked on by his peers as simply the very best of a mate - and with revulsion by young Eric (Lewis Reeves) who describes anything intimate with the older corpulent man as akin to "snogging your mum". That Guy's friends confide their desires in him and how they are cheating on each other, only adds to the pathos of his loneliness.

Guy's two friends from student days are John and Daniel, played with the most subtly elegant public school wit by Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild. Ovenden's chiselled looks define him as the object of Guy's unspoken desire. Raffishly rampant, he can have who he wants and Ovenden deftly portrays his character's wracking guilt at having only ever found true love in an illicit affair with Reg, whilst the dead man had been Daniel's partner. Elyot’s dramatic incisions into the pain of John’s guilt is merciless. Streatfeild is another treat - flamboyant and larger than life, a man who can gloriously "sniff another's tumesence", yet whose grief at Reg's death allied with his suspicions that his partner was cheating on him, is another gem of a performance.

Completing the sextet are local pals, the effete, timid Bernie (Richard Cant) and his gloriously rough-trade bus-driving partner Benny (Matt Bardock), a man who will shag anything that moves. His is a clever creation, demonstrating that sexualities straddle society.

Against an occasional backdrop of Bowie and musical memories that the men may have shared at different times with Reg, the humour plays out against a knowing and mostly unspoken fear of the epidemic they risk. It is left to Benny to articulate the terror of any "cough or twinge" bringing him out in a cold sweat.

The text of the play is finely crafted, matched only by the exquisite stagecraft that the six men display. Not a "must see" as the nudity, whilst in context, may offend, My Night With Reg remains another example of London's world class theatre.

Runs until 27th September 2014

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