My Night With Reg review – a listless revival of Elyot’s masterly Aids comedy

Turbine theatre, London
Despite heartfelt intentions and some energetic performances, this production doesn’t do justice to the brilliance of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 script

Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play about friendship in the time of the Aids epidemic is, on the one hand, a period piece about being a gay man in the 1980s. But, like Russell T Davies’s recent TV drama It’s a Sin, which also occupies that milieu and with a similar mix of lightness and dark, it offers reflection on a time when Aids was so feared it was never named out loud.

It is set among a group of friends who have unspoken sexual undercurrents: Daniel (Gerard McCarthy), the sunny boyfriend to Reg, who always remains off stage; John (Edward M Corrie), who is rich, ruddy and having an affair with Reg; and Guy (Paul Keating), single, lonely and secretly in love with John.

The play is described as a drawing-room comedy but is every bit a tragedy, too. Elyot balances carefully between the two, building nuance and compassion into every quietly tortured character. Despite the heartfelt nature of this revival, directed by Matt Ryan, much of that is flattened or mangled. The first act sees the friends raising toasts, remembering their am dram days at university and ribbing each other. The brilliance of the script is there but it feels like actors reading lines rather than bringing their characters and friendships uproariously to life.

Edward M Corrie, Paul Keating and James Bradwell in My Night With Reg.
Drawing room comedy ... Edward M Corrie, Paul Keating and James Bradwell in My Night With Reg. Photograph: Mark Senior

The men only ever meet in Guy’s living room, designed by Lee Newby with a conservatory at the back, but each time they do, someone else has died. A sniping couple, Benny and Bernie, enter in the second act when we are told that Reg has died, and they bring a gust of energy with them. Stephen K Amos, as the gruff bus driver Benny, and Alan Turkington, as the uppity Bernie, have an enlivening presence that feels like a relief.

The spirit of drawing-room comedy grows when we discover that Reg secretly slept with almost everyone in the room before he died, including the young handyman (James Bradwell). But in the final, melancholic act, the pace slackens fatally while the silences and wan looks between actors do not build the effect they should.

Neither are character complexities teased out: John is directionless and stewing in a sense of failure but Corrie only ever appears emotionally impenetrable. Daniel is mired in mourning for Reg but feels like an ancillary player. Keating is better at bringing out Guy’s fear of Aids along with his despair about love and ageing.

Their interactions on stage seem enervated by the end. Not through want of trying but none of it feels like the tragedy – nor the comedy – that it should.

Contributor

Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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