Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Review: My Night With Reg

First things first, this post is about a play. Not anything else you might have been thinking of. Just to clear that up. 

Moving on...

My Night With Reg is an early 90s play by British playwright Kevin Elyot. It follows a sextet (great word) of gay men over four years of their collective life and individual lives. Over the course of the play (a short course it should be said, the play is only about 110 minutes long and runs sans interval) it is revealed that all but one of the group - uptight, chaste, sweet Guy - have slept with the titular but absent Reg. There’s flamboyant David, who is Reg’s long term partner; rich kid John, the object of Guy’s unrequited love, who is having a 6 month affair with Reg; odd couple Benny (an alpha male bus driver) and Bernie (“he redefines dull”) who’ve both had one night stands with him; and naive new kid in town Eric who also has a one stand stand with Reg but doesn’t even get to know his name. In the second scene of the play it is revealed that Reg has died of Aids.

This isn’t an ‘Aids play’ in the same way that, say, Angels in America or The Normal Heart is though. It’s not angry and it’s not political. Aids is never directly mentioned once, the power and weight that the word undoubtedly carries is implied through the excellent writing and acting instead. It is a tragic play, certainly, but it’s also a very funny comedy of manners. A tragicomedy that actually works, that rare thing.

This is a phenomenally well crafted play with beautiful dialogue, both funny and tragic. It plays on its themes of love, loss and betrayal subtly but fully. The scenes between Guy and John in particular are fantastic, Guy’s all consuming love for John being both the source of much of the humour and even more of the tragedy of the play. Trying very hard to avoid the dreaded spoilers, there are two deaths in this play and the contrasting ways that John reacts to them is heartbreaking. Although the play is set in the 1980s, the way it deals with its themes so sensitively allows it to still be 100% relevant today - despite it’s love of The Police.

It helps that the cast must surely be one of the finest ensembles on the London stage right now. They are all excellent, but special mention must go to Jonathan Broadbent’s adorable, neurotic Guy and Julian Ovenden’s complicated John. The former in particular could easily become an unbelievable stereotype in less skilled hands, something that would be a disaster for the heart of the play and that Broadbent deftly avoids. Ovenden’s John almost crumples before your eyes over the course of the play, starting off as the cocky, unreliable cad about town but ending as a heartbroken, scared shell with every single one of his insecurities, fears and losses written on his face. He also looks pretty damn good naked, just FYI (if you’re not ok with some fairly prolonged male nudity then this is not the play for you).

If I had to criticise, then the play’s third scene (which I’m trying very hard not to spoil) is fairly predictable once you realise what situation is being played out. That doesn’t diminish its emotional impact for one instant, though. And I did have some issues with the character of Bernie, who is so boring and socially unaware that he does at times feel a bit like a caricature. That said, his moment of real emotion (again, avoiding spoilers) is beautifully written and acted. Minor quibbles aside, this is a really excellent evening of theatre.

I’d urge you to go and see My Night With Reg, but as it’s playing at the tiny Donmar Warehouse the whole run is already inevitably sold out. The Donmar does do seated and standing day tickets though if you have the patience for such things. It’s certainly worth it.

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