My Night With Reg finds solace in comedy, as it faces the AIDS crisis of the late twentieth century. Teasing into British manners, this bittersweet drama depicts the lives of a group of gay men brought together by Guy, the stable glue of the group. The eponymous Reg remains an absent presence – a unifying, dark thread for this group and the underlying tension, sexual and fatal, that drives the narrative.
Revived by the Donmar Warehouse in 2014, Kevin Elyot’s play is more traditional in structure than his contemporaries – the angry ‘in yer face’ movement – but underlying the gay issues and subjects of the piece is hilariously human, comedic contemplation. It was written, really, long after the wave of protest plays – predominantly produced in America – that first reacted to the 1980s AIDS crisis. In that sense, it fits alongside a play like Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in being late to the game and using parody, satire and straight comedy to deal with its subject. But it is the coming together of historic distance and the immediacy of live performance; the insinuations and nuances that drive the play, that deliver its bittersweetness without ambiguity. Because of course, the reality of both the 1990s, when Elyot was writing, and indeed today (though to a lesser extent) is that AIDS remains a current, potently charged subject.
That being so, this is a hugely entertaining piece and perfect for its West End dalliance at the Apollo. A Bowie soundtrack, proud rainbow lights and boyish revelry fuel universal themes of love, loss, nostalgia and friendship. Set in Guy’s London apartment, somewhere near ‘the heath’, the play spans his flat warming, funerals and reunions over four years. Peter McKintosh’s neat design for the set is perfectly arranged and impeccably decorated. My only niggle to raise with the piece might be the slight lack of clarity as the play skips foward in time – costumes remain the same for the sake of flow. Nonetheless, this a play that runs with surprise. It is also founded on tragic irony: the worst things happens to even those you least expect it of.
Jonathan Broadbent as Guy is quaint, sensitive and heartbreakingly sympathetic: he is every time we can’t bear risking friendship for secret love, the rock of a friendship group and the epitome of loyalty. Julian Ovenden, playing John, is a last outlet of public school charm and chiselled cheek boned confidence. But he is charming and sympathetic with it. Dan (Geoffrey Streatfield) is flamboyant – a grown up drama kid – ecstatic in his enjoyment of life and determined to love freely and joyfully.
Enjoy some bare bodied galavanting, drunken hilarity and eighties music, while contemplating the crucial and pertinent fears that have shaped a whole community.
Many thanks to Official Theatre and Seat Plan, with whom I attended the production as part of #LDNTheatreBloggers. Find us on the twittersphere. And follow me on Blog Lovin’ to keep up to date with everything happening in the theatre scene and some musing on arts, culture and life in the big smoke.
My Night With Reg is currently booking until 11 April 2015. This is a Donmar production, so every Monday Barclays Front Row release £10 seats for two weeks later. You need to be on it at 10am, though, dally about a minute too long and they will all have gone.