sun 18/03/2018

My Night with Reg, Donmar Warehouse | reviews, news & interviews

My Night with Reg, Donmar Warehouse

My Night with Reg, Donmar Warehouse

Exquisite play about AIDS movingly revived after playwright Kevin Elyot's death

Almost Chekhovian: Geoffrey Streatfeild, Jonathan Broadbent and Julian Ovendenphoto: Johan Persson

Daniel loves Reg; so does John. Guy loves John; John doesn’t love Guy. Bernie loves Benny, and drives him mad. And as for Eric, he once thought he could fall for Reg – but they only shared one night together, and he never even knew Reg’s name. And anyway, as he points out, unlike the middle-aged others, he’s young – “I’ve got plenty of time.”

Time, though, is a slippery commodity in the work of Kevin Elyot. And here, it’s not so much a healer as a killer. The 1994 play, set among a group of gay friends, takes place in the mid- to late-Eighties over several years and three scenes, each divided from the next by a timelapse and a death. AIDS, though never named, stalks the characters’ lives, implacably picking them off. With each tragedy, they – and we – are reminded of the danger of leaving feelings unexplored, tenderness unshared, truth unvoiced, until it’s too late and the moment has passed forever.

Elyot has a wonderful ear and eye for everyday oddity

Yet My Night with Reg is anything but unrelentingly sombre. Often desperately sad, it always glows with compassion and is brimming with effervescent humour, even if there’s an aftertaste of melancholy and dejection: the sweet-sourness of flat champagne after the party has fizzled out. And it’s at a trio of gatherings, where the booze flows and nothing goes quite as planned, that Elyot’s exquisite cat’s cradle of intricate connections unravels. Robert Hastie directs this new 20th-anniversary production – all the more poignant for opening just a month after the author’s death – with deft precision and a lightness of touch that allows every moment its - often unspoken - eloquence. And in a drama where the smallest look or gesture is rarely without significance, the cast doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Jonathan Broadbent is Guy, whose flat hosts all the play’s onstage action; in the first scene, he’s throwing a housewarming bash. He’s invited two old university friends – monied, charismatic John (Julian Ovenden), whom he’s long secretly adored, and flamboyant Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild), a sharp-tongued, generous-natured art dealer, overflowing with bliss in a happy, highly sexed relationship with Reg (who is never seen). Eric (Lewis Reeves, pictured above with Streatfeild), a buff young Brummie, works at Guy’s local gay pub and is now painting his conservatory for him; expected later on are fussy, fastidious Bernie (Richard Cant) and his growling bus-driver partner Benny (Matt Bardock), proud owner of a dirty mouth and a conspicuously big dick. That evening’s choices and consequences reverberate through everything that follows; poor Guy, agonisingly lonely and resorting to knitting as a form of “lust-repressant” – partly from fear of infection – finds himself burdened with unwelcome gifts in the shape of cookbooks for solo dinners, and John’s secret: his ongoing serious affair with Reg. When it’s revealed, in the next scene, that Reg has died from AIDS, they and the grief-stricken Daniel only become more tightly and painfully bound in the multiple threads of deception.

Elyot has a wonderful ear and eye for everyday oddity: Bernie, it is declared, “sells plastic cups” for a living; John habitually hurls himself at furniture, as if even sitting down is an act of sensual abandon. At the same time, there’s an emotional profundity to the writing – an aching sense of loss or despair in the silences, a heedless infliction of hurt in the lines – that feels almost Chekhovian. Sex is an act of loving intimacy, but also a hedonistic pleasure, a form of solace, a violation or a terrible risk. This is a play crammed with cruel ironies, yet it is unfailingly humane. In this staging of piercing sensitivity, it’s a night to remember.

In a drama where the smallest look or gesture is rarely without significance, the cast doesn’t put a foot wrong


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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