My Night With Reg
The Turbine Theatre
Reviewed – 29th July 2021
“The writing is timeless and the acting faultless”
When “My Night With Reg” premiered at the Royal Court in 1994, Kevin Elyot’s depiction of the ups and downs of a circle of gay friends was seen to be ground-breaking and dissenting. A smash hit, it was considered to be the first gay play in which being gay wasn’t an issue. To revive it today there is the risk of it passing by unnoticed. The novelty value is obviously going to be diluted, if not dissolved completely, awash in a scene where much of London’s theatreland is championing the gay community. Yet it is the beauty of Elyot’s writing: his wit, compassion and insight, that make the task much easier. The writing will stand up at any point in history. Like his first play, “Coming Clean”, which tackles similar issues but when AIDS was still just a rumour in Britain, it doesn’t wave any flags or thrust articles of faith into our hands. It is a play about friendships and about how to keep those friendships alive; about lying and cheating and the subsequent costs of deception. It is about how we hold onto each other amid the barrage of adversity that is thrown at us.
And that is what comes across in Matt Ryan’s revival at the Turbine Theatre. It doesn’t try to replicate the storm that swept it onto the stage nearly three decades ago. Instead, it relies on a company of exceptional actors knocking back wonderful moments of nostalgia with their whisky chasers. Each cast member savours the language, embellishing it with their body language, mannerisms and silences that flesh out their characters.
Guy (Paul Keating) is nervously welcoming his university pal John (Edward M Corrie) into his flat warming party. The awkwardness stems from the unspoken and unrequited love that Guy feels for John. From the off we relish the realism that Keating brings to the shy Guy, fawning and fumbling in the face of Corrie’s cool composure. There’s a crackle in the air that is soon blown away when Gerard McCarthy’s Daniel storms in, buzzing with irreverence. The dialogue is swift and seemingly inconsequential, yet it skilfully establishes the relationships and connections between the ensemble. In the background is Eric (James Bradwell), Guy’s young decorator; initially an outsider but who very quickly wrangles a place centre stage. Alan Turkington and Stephen K Amos join the party as the bickering odd couple Bernie and Benny.
Never seen, but always present is the eponymous Reg. Reg is the one who binds them and can potentially drive them apart. It is no spoiler to reveal that each character onstage has had their ‘night with Reg’ at some point or other. It is the aftermath, the secrets and duplicity, the heartache, sorrow and dangers they each face after Reg has died that are the revelations in this skilfully constructed production. Lee Newby’s design, with its scattering of vinyl records and house plants, wonderfully mirrors the play’s mix of nostalgia and concurrence; concord and discord. The big picture is in the detail. And likewise, the big moments are found in the small gestures.
It seems irrelevant to harp on about the relevance of “My Night With Reg”. The writing is timeless and the acting faultless. The themes are shadowed by death, loss, grief, fear and sorrow but the strength of the personalities, not just of the characters but of the actors themselves, light up the darkest corners of the space, revealing the untidy dust balls of hope and optimism and the need to hang on to the delicacy of friendship that we can all relate to. AIDS is another central character, but the fact that it is never mentioned in the script, without diminishing its pertinence, enhances the play’s longevity and universality. And this heartfelt homage to Elyot will ensure the continued success and interest in his work.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
My Night With Reg
The Turbine Theatre until 21st August
Previously reviewed at this venue in 2021: