Tag Archives: Kevin Elyot

“Coming Clean” at the King’s Head Theatre

Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s first play offers a glimpse of a writer working up to big things. Written 12 years before the success of My Night With Reg, this 1982 piece has style behind a stumbling structure and a forthright voice that wins respect. It’s the story of an open relationship – between Tony and Greg – threatened by the latter’s affair with their young cleaner Robert, in which Elyot worked hard to present a view of gay life at a particular moment in time.

The play has enough explicit sexual reference to still shock. The pre-AIDS epidemic sexual escapades get the best of Elyot’s humour and sharp lines from erudite characters abound. The cast are good with Elyot’s jokes, especially Elliot Hadley, who plays the couple’s camp friend with the skill of a stand-up comedian. Tom Lambert’s Robert, who upsets Tony and Greg’s agreement to have only casual flings, is also strong, working his wide-eyed naivety and toying with a glint of mischief that it’s a shame Elyot didn’t explore further.

Elliot Hadley & Tom Lambert
Elliot Hadley & Tom Lambert

Coming Clean aims at big emotions with poetic yearnings. But both depend on the central couple, and Elyot doesn’t give enough to deliver this. Jason Nwoga plays Greg with a cool air that makes his character believable and rounded but it’s a thinly written role. Lee Knight’s Tony has a convincingly acidic quality that makes him too unappealing. As a result, Knight struggles in lighter scenes, making the humour overwrought. When real feelings are called for, a great performance is produced. The confession that the open relationship is never what Tony wanted isn’t much of a revelation, but Knight makes it moving.

Spreadbury-Maher shows an intelligent appreciation of Elyot’s writing throughout, he makes the most of what is really a minor work. Coming Clean takes too long to get to its simple points, dragging out a slim plot to arrive at an uninteresting conclusion. It is predictable and, while the repartee is bright, the characters are dull. Maybe My Night With Reg hangs over the play too heavily, leading to inevitable disappointment? The key might be to come clean to the play itself, in an effort to appreciate its qualities in the same spirit as this admirable cast and creative team.

Until 26 August 2017

www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Photo by Paul Nicholas Dyke

“Twilight Song” at the Park Theatre

There’s a first-class cast in Anthony Banks’ premiere of Kevin Elyot’s last play. Flipping between the 1960s and the present day, Bryony Hannah plays Isabella. Pregnant in one scene then moments later an elderly woman, she can’t fail to impress. Paul Higgins and Adam Garcia double up roles, taking four parts in their stride. Higgins plays Isabella’s son and husband, differentiating his characters subtly, while Garcia performs as two strangers offering sex, adding chemistry to both of his scenes.

Adam Garcia and Paul Higgins
Adam Garcia and Paul Higgins

The actors, and Banks, have a thorough appreciation of Elyot’s theatrical world, where the middle classes mix with passion and occasional obscenity. There’s repression aplenty and touches of poetic romance tempered by prosaic lust. It’s all familiar territory from Elyot’s big hit, My Night With Reg, but sadly this play isn’t as good. The dialogue and jokes are flat, the characters underdeveloped. Banks handles every aspect of the play with more reverence than it deserves, drawing most of it out for longer than it can stand and making even the comedy hard work.

Philip Bretherton and Hugh Ross
Philip Bretherton and Hugh Ross

The differences with Elyot’s previous piece offer frustrating glances at potential unfulfilled. A central female character, which Hannah tackles well, feels tangibly imprisoned by history, but thinly drawn. An elderly gay couple, impeccably performed by Philip Bretherton and Hugh Ross, deserve a play of their own. In the end, a tasteless plot twist takes over. Let’s slide over the idea of an estate agent being so hard up for cash that he takes to prostitution; Garcia plays this “surprisingly sensitive” realtor and then a gardener with a “poetic nature” – and he performs both well – but it’s all a leap too far. A nastily cheap conclusion, that’s grim for the sake of shocking, embodies the flimsy feel of the play.

Until 12 August 2017

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photos by Robert Workman

“My Night With Reg” at the Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play, My Night With Reg, opened this week. With strong direction from Robert Hastie and a superb cast, the production serves as a fitting tribute to the recently deceased author of this sensitive and sensationally funny play.

As a group of gay friends meet over the years, first in celebration then in the wake of the devastating AIDS crisis, their promiscuous lives are observed in a quietly profound and structured way. Questions of love, life and death come to the fore in a play about the passage of time and the importance of truth.

This should be a grim night out. Even the weather, in each of the three scenes, is the perpetually wet English summer. Yet Elyot’s triumph is to make My Night With Reg so funny. With a nod to classic farce and plenty of blue jokes, the laughs come thick and fast. Underneath the wickedly funny crudity, there’s great skill: switching between comedy and tears with the speed of a lightning flash.

Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel) and Lewis Reeves (Eric) in My Night With Reg. Photo by Johan Persson.
Geoffrey Streatfeild and Lewis Reeves

The characters are finely drawn and the acting lives up to Elyot’s writing. The plot pivots around the never seen Reg – the lover of so many – but our perspective comes from the floppy-haired, ever cautious Guy, made so endearing by Jonathan Broadbent that he becomes a real hero. Guy’s university friends are appropriately irresistible, played by Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild with both charisma and convincing depth. There are also talented turns by Matt Bardock and Richard Cant, while Lewis Reeves as Eric, the youngest character, gives another strong performance, bringing intergenerational insight to events.

As the play’s first major revival, the big question is, inevitably, how well it has aged. Despite being very much rooted in its times, addressing a specific community that has changed a great deal in the past 20 years, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how fresh My Night With Reg feels. Unrequited love is a universal theme, after all, and Elyot explores deep emotions in an appealingly uncensorious way. Best of all, the humour, while too blunt to describe as sparkling, still shines.

Until 27 September 2014

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Johan Persson

Written 6 August 2014 for The London Magazine