My Night With Reg at the Turbine Theatre – review
Kevin Elyot's play returns in a new revival
Kevin Elyot's play, first seen in the mid-90s when it picked up the Best Comedy (though far from light-hearted) Olivier Award, has steadily been inching towards seminal status, aided by a well-received revival at the Donmar Warehouse in 2014.
Following a group of men that come together for a London house warming (as well as their subsequent romantic and social lives over the next handful of years), its power lies in its unambitious yet powerfully harrowing content.
My Night With Reg's success has now been firmly cemented by director Matt Ryan's deft handling of the two-hour text (an ebullient, speedy first act gives way to a longer, more earnest second). Mixing fidelity and fear in a heady cocktail, what starts out as a story bubbling away in a thriving maisonette, thanks to Lee Newby's set design, ends in what feels like a pale mausoleum.
Similar in scale to the piece's first home, upstairs at the Royal Court, the Turbine Theatre has an easy intimacy that suits the text like ice cold cola in a whisky – fizzy yet always carrying a twist of something more lasting.
The cast pull off naturalistic, endearing turns – never over-egging the emotional threads in the story and, by keeping things under-stated, letting the heartbreak hit with a gradual, melancholic weight. While the density of arse-slapping is slightly distracting, Ryan knows the best way to let Elyot's text work is by focussing not simply on what's said, but also on what's smoked, and what's drunk. Silences can speak volumes.
Carrying the emotional heart of the show is Paul Keating's lovelorn Guy, whose romantic escapades often involve barking commands down the phone to an unseen lover with a submissive canine fetish.
Against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic, some lines resonate through the decades: "Every morning I check my body, inch by inch", Stephen K Amos' Benny says with a resigned languor. Soon friends start disappearing and the black suits are brought out. Farce tinged with an all-encompassing existential dread, it's a charged, enthralling watch, steered to success thanks to Ryan's skilful work.