The Day I Stood Still at the National - Cottesloe

The playwright Kevin Elyot, like the central character of his latest play which is receiving its world premiere at the National's Cottesloe Theatre, has also stood still: the theme of the new piece is almost identical to that of his last, award-winning play, My Night with Reg, which travelled from the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs to an extended run in the West End and subsequently television.

The Day I Stood Still is the story of Horace, a gay man forever locked into the unrequited love he fell into with a straight boy at school, Jerry. In My Night with Reg, it was Guy, forever locked into his unrequited love for a fellow gay man at University. The occurrence of death, too, hovers over both plays.

Both also play with time in fascinating and beguiling ways, taking place over a period of years. Where My Night with Reg moved conventionally forwards in its three scenes, the new play (also spun out across three scenes) is more sophisticated in its time frame shifts, with its first scene in fact the middle of its three scenes in chronological terms, the last scene it's first, and the middle it's last. One further device complicates matters: two of the characters are played by two actors each; while a third actor plays two characters each.

It may sound confusing, but in Elyot's artfully well-constructed writing, it's no muddle live. Clues are expertly laid throughout that, by the evening's end, resolve themselves very cleverly - perhaps too cleverly in some cases - whether it be one character's certainty that he had been to this particular flat before or explanation of Horace's obsession with Mars bars.

But if My Night With Reg was also more waspishly funny, it was also ultimately more tragic. The Day I Stood Still is a funny play, too, and a touching one - but without the same resonance as the earlier work.

It is, however, impeccably well served by director Ian Rickson's perfectly nuanced production, led by Adrian Scarborough's marvellous portrayal of the older Horace. Sorry to keep making comparisons, but as I've noted already, this lead role is virtually identical to the part that David Bamber played so beautifully in My Night With Reg, and it's praise indeed that Scarborough likewise captures a very similar character's isolation and loneliness with heartbreaking accuracy. I'd now love to see a bit of role-swapping - Bamber in this part, and Scarborough in the other.

Mark Shenton, January 1998