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Friday, 10 April 2015

My Night With Reg | A Review

An award-winning revival of Kevin Elyot's hard-hitting drama, set in the 'gay world of the 80s'*, 'My Night with Reg' is set at a time when the AIDS epidemic was a prominent feature in the daily new's headlines when the Gay community were living with a time bomb. 

Time, is a cleverly crafted aspect of Elyot's writing. A three-act play with no interval, the scenes  moved through events seamlessly, its as if only minutes have gone by until you realise through the dialogue 2 years has past and the sequence of events and mood has taken a downward turn. Although the play was set over a 4-year period it is situated in the same living room and conservatory; conservatively well- furnished to reflect Guy. Guy is an old fashioned nearly-40 loner who is constantly reminded of this by his friends, some of whom it transpires have spent a night with the infamous Reg.

The scene-changes were signified by a drop in lighting and a coloured, glowing neon light framing the living room set. This worked well to set the scene of the florescent, garishly coloured 80s after which was highlighted in blue as the play takes a dark turn. I felt this framed the action and pin-pointed the lives of the all-male cast effectively.

Originally designed by Bill Dudley for the Royal Court theatre, this revival designed by Peter Macintosh, and transfer to the West End stage lacks in intimacy between the actors and audience. The actors played out at times towards the audience instead of solely to each other in their living room setting. I felt this conflicted with the bubble-like isolated structure that the setting exuded.
The living room 'box set' was situated against a backdrop; an expanse of blue, that created a void above and surrounding the constructed set. As well as creating an ever-present evening or early morning setting with a sombre mood it was as if the interwoven lives of these characters were happening in a bubble and that the world around them was still going on. I especially successful was the storm (that continued on through the play despite the change in time) the rain came down from the conservatory windows not from the flies above, creating a separation from the rest of the world but in actual fact the world around them was impinging on their lives more than they ever could imagine!
'whatever heartbreak or happiness we experience in our lives, whatever loss, the sun rises in the morning and sets again at night, and whether we find this comforting or cruel, the world goes on'. - Robert Hastie paraphrasing a quote from playwright, Kevin Elyot. 

The use of music is well executed in terms of illustrating emotion and loss. The second movement of Ravel's 'Piano Concerto in G Major' is a favourite of the unseen character, Reg. This brings Reg's presence strongly into the story. In contrast we are transported back to the 80's with pop- classics of the decade: The play opens with The Police, 'Every Breath You Take'. David Bowie's 'Starman' is a running theme that establishes a relationship between the character John and Daniel. However a technical mistake is made in the third act where the record is placed on the turntable and the characters dance joyfully and flamboyantly in the room in front of it. The record played seamlessly whereas in the time of record players the movement could have made the needle jump.

The all-male cast was dominated by some great performances. A flamboyant performance from Daniel (Geoffrey Steatfield) encapsulated the promiscuous life-style of these characters. His character exuded confidence as well as conveying honest emotion and bereavement.  Eric (Lewis Reeves), the younger 'eye-candy' was played with great innocence and vulnerability, finding out where he belongs. A Hugh Grant lookalike, Julian Ovenden played John understatedly which I felt was a little too stiff and shy to how he was being described by the other characters on stage. I felt he was the weakest link in the play despite his character being pivotal to the angst and heartbreak affecting many of the characters. The bickering couple Bernie and Benny were a marvelous duo offsetting each other's habits and disagreeable characteristics. Bernie who 'redefines boredom', played by Richard Cant was superb! He was genuine,  his unshaking fear of losing his partner was raw and honest. Benny, (Matt Bardock) created a fab 'younger than his years' geezer who smokes, swears, and prioritizes the needs of this explicitly present in conversation active 'member'. Johnathan Broadbent played Guy, fastidiously perfect although I was not convinced thoroughly by his character possibly through costume-choice. He made a great down-trodden misunderstood guy; always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The main character, Reg, reminiscent of Mike Liegh's 'Abigails Party' is never seen but heard a great deal about, playing a pivotal role merging the unsuspecting friends even more together than they realise. The play kept a good, steady pace; there were many unsettling moments of silence that created the desired awkwardness amongst the characters highlighting their sexual tension and unspoken secrets.

Elyot's writing draws you in; makes you laugh with his out-landish graphic humour with sexualised action that still surprised and perhaps at times unsettled an otherwise educated 21st Century audience before tipping you into despair and sorrow for the characters and their fragile lives. It is a moving yet hilarious comedy. It is raw and honest. The elephant in the room, AIDS, of which this play centres around, is never mentioned which highlights the taboo of the time in which the play is set. Despite this, the play remains prominent and in date with a modern audience.

'My Night with Reg' is on until 11th April 2015 at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London

*Alan Hollinghurst, Remembering Kevin