Thursday, 7 August 2014
My Night With Reg at The Donmar
As with Beckett’s Godot, Reg doesn’t actually set foot on the stage in this 1994 play by Kevin Elyot. That it should be revised right now gives this tragi-comedy an air of sadness because its author died in June following a long illness. I didn’t see the original version staged at The Royal Court before transferring to the West End, but I’m sure Kevin Elyot would have been more than pleased with this version, directed by Robert Hastie.
The idea for this play came to Elyot at the funeral in the mid 80’s of an old flat-mate who had died of Aids and had been intimate with several of the mourners. Reg is likewise of the promiscuous persuasion and it is his fondness for the carnal that causes panic amongst his closest friends. The spectre of Aids is at the heart of the play, written as it was when the illness was beginning to take a hold, but there is more to it than that. For unrequited love, friendship, ageing and, ultimately death, are all here and dealt with so well.
The structure of My Night With Reg is very clever. Just one setting, that of the bachelor flat belonging to the very house-proud, Guy, but a time span of four years, brilliantly and subtlety constructed. In fact so much of this play is a master class in subtlety. Not all, mind you, for there isn’t much nuance with the language and humour, making the piece so very real and honest and so many of the lines are an absolute joy.
Poor Guy is the one suffering from the lack of love in his life. That is to say, he does all the loving, but from afar. To everyone, including the object of his infections, John, he is Mr Nice Guy. No one sees him as anything more than a friend. He was at University with Daniel and John and they’re drifting towards middle-age. Daniel has moved on from his promiscuous phase and is living with Reg, who, unbeknownst to him, hasn’t. The handsome, rich but rather disaffected, John, also loves Reg but is keeping it a secret from Daniel. The only one who hasn’t “known” Reg is Guy, for the other couple in the cast, Benny and Bernie have also sampled his charms, albeit briefly. The final member of this fine ensemble is the youngster, Eric, who meets everyone having been hired to decorate Guy’s flat and he, too, is linked to the ever present but absent Reg.
The whole cast is exemplary. Jonathan Broadbent plays the nurturing and hurting Guy with just the right amount of pathos, an excellent contrast to Julian Ovenden’s confidently handsome John and Geoffrey Streatfeild’s boisterous Daniel. The latter is a joy to watch. Over the top, this camp life and soul of the party shows his hidden depths towards the end of the play. Richard Cant as Bernie is the intense and rather boring female side of the Benny and Bernie partnership, in sharp contrast to his forthright lorry-driving partner portrayed by Matt Bardock. Last but by no means least, Lewis Reeves, brings just the right amount of youthful optimism to the role of Eric and nicely highlights the chasm that age brings.
The direction by Robert Hastie is tight and controlled, whilst the Sound Designer, Gregory Clarke and Designer, Peter McKintosh both do a wonderful job. The meticulous flat, constant patter of rain on the conservatory roof and period music all add to the atmosphere of this iconic gay play, which, with its mix of laughter and tears appeals to all persuasions.