My Night with Reg (Apollo Theatre)
'Robert Hastie's fine revival proves Elyot's real mastery was for melancholy'
Twenty years ago, the late Kevin Elyot picked up best new comedy at the Olivier awards for this study of gay men in London, all nudging into middle-age. Its humour – camp, gleeful and infectious as it is – now feels a touch dated, but Robert Hastie's fine revival, first seen at the Donmar Warehouse last summer, proves Elyot's real mastery was for melancholy.
Set in Guy's new apartment – first at his flat-warming, then at a wake held for the eponymous and, it turns out, promiscuous Reg – Elyot's play throws together five old friends and a young painter-decorator, Eric (Lewis Reeves), all of whom slept with the deceased at some point or other. Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild), Reg's long-term partner, leans on uni-mate John (Julian Ovenden) for support, unaware that he and Reg had been lovers for the last nine months. All the rest were casual, one-off flings, but John's was love – and, what's more, it was reciprocated. (The same can't be said of Guy's own 15 year-old feelings for John.)
My Night with Reg reveals how rare and precious a thing love is: for two people to comfortably co-exist, content in each other's company. For all the genuine bonhomie and affection between them, these five friends can't stand being alone with one another. The moment they find themselves one-on-one, someone makes their excuses. Guy scuttles off to the kitchen; John holes himself up in the loo. They grab breaths of fresh air, sink tumblers of scotch or offer the host a helping hand. Anything to escape.
The alternative is sex – and with the spectre of AIDS in the background, the image of young old men laid up on their deathbeds, there's a sense these men fuck to prove they've got pulses. Or perhaps, they're just playing at love: going through the motions as if the act might somehow spark the feeling.
There's so much unspoken beneath the surface: rivalries, secrets and jealousies; love, lust and loneliness. Elyot's impeccably-drawn characters get performances to match, and both casting and costuming are so pinpoint, you can read these men even when their backs are turned.
Jonathan Broadbent, dressed like a five-year old at his bestie's birthday party, finds all the tragedy of Guy's timidity. He makes his move on the amiable Eric like an arachnophobe tackling a tarantula, and yet plumps his new cushions as if the whole world depended on it. His seems an awful waste of a life.
Ovenden has the boyish ease of a man who, though pushing 40, still hurls himself at furniture, but lets the anxiety of aging seep through. Streatfeild's Daniel is a shell of a man: maintaining his usual flamboyance, but utterly broken inside. There's strong support from Matt Bardock and Richard Cant as the mismatched Benny and Bernie; one pent-up with frustration, the other – with his short sleeves and sad eyes – boring for Britain. Elyot's play does the opposite: it's a play to make you seize your days.
My Night With Reg runs until 11th April. Click here for more information and to book tickets.