Wednesday, 6 August 2014

'My Night With Reg' at the Donmar Warehouse

We went to see 'My Night With Reg', the new production of the Kevin Elyot play from the '90s about a group of friends in the '80s. It's a comedy - a bittersweet and sad comedy - and it had me laughing out loud (yes, even me).

The blurb on the site says:

On its premiere, Kevin Elyot’s Olivier and Evening Standard Award-winning comedy, MY NIGHT WITH REG, defined a moment in the lives of gay men and became an instant classic. For its 20th anniversary, rising star Robert Hastie directs the first major revival.

At Guy’s London flat, old friends and new gather to party through the night. This is the summer of 1985, and for Guy and his circle the world is about to change forever. Deliciously funny and bittersweet, Kevin Elyot’s comedy captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself.

It's a play in three acts, only 1:45 hours long so there's no half time and acts are separated by very effectively turning off the lights for a few seconds. Act one is the scene of Guy's flat warming party which introduces the main characters but we don't meet the mysterious Reg. Act two takes place after Reg's funeral in which we meet two more friends and act three takes place after Guy's funeral. Bit gloomy, eh? Not at all, it's incredibly well observed and terribly funny, full of awkwardness and real life and laugh-out-loud moments.

We meet Guy who everyone likes but no-one loves or lusts after and he welcomes John to his flat warming party while Eric finishes off painting the conservatory. Something's not right and we soon learn that Guy has loved John since university a decade earlier but never said anything. We meet Daniel, Reg's partner, who is supposed to be in Australia but whose flight is delayed, and the scene is set. Lots of kissing and flirting, drinking champagne and remembering the old days. Guy hosts a wake for Reg with a distraught Daniel and a remorseful John (who was having an affair with Reg) and we meet Benny and Bernie, a couple who have each spent time with Reg. And then we go back to Guy's flat after his funeral since he's left it to John and we see John and Eric, the painter and publican, talking about what's happened and John wanting to get into Eric's pants.

The play is full of laugh-out-loud bawdiness and the HIV/AIDs tragedy. Everyone seems to have spent a night with Reg and some have died. That really chimed with me. I've blogged before about the unthinking and irrational fear of HIV and AIDs in the '80s and this play brought it all back, laughing one moment and then having the reality pushed in my face. And that's a good way of getting a message across. Some of the younger people in the audience have probably read about 'the plague' years but I lived through it and remember it.

I thought the cast were excellent, particularly Julian Ovenden as John and Geoffrey Streatfield as Daniel with the easy camaraderie of old friends and Jonathan Broadbent as Guy constantly plumping up the cushions on the couch. It's a very touching and human play about a group of friends against a backdrop of the spread of HIV/AIDs which is never directly mentioned but is referred to and hovers in the background.

There was a sign outside warning us that the play contained nudity and smoking (since when do we need a warning that we'll see someone smoking?) and as soon as I saw Lewis Reeves on stage as Eric, painting Guy's conservatory, I thought aha! he's the one who'll get his kit off since that's what the junior players are for on stage. And I was right - partly. Imagine my surprise when Mr Ovenden strode on stage in his all-over tan for a brief scene with them both naked before returning in his pants and a dressing gown. He's got nothing to be embarrassed about.

Well done to everyone involved in the production. Since it's at the Donmar then that means that it's virtually sold out for the entire run and it's only just opened. There are a few tickets left for matinees but that's about it. Lucky me, I've nabbed tickets to see it again!

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