Coming Clean

It’s 35 years since Kevin Elyot’s first play, Coming Clean, premiered at the Bush Theatre and 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Anniversary productions are commendable for often resurrecting early works, celebrating the contributions of significant writers, marking moments in history and illustrating how times have changed. Adam Spreadbury-Maher has directed this King's Head revival in such a way that the production makes for reflection on all of these as well as the play’s central themes of relationships, fidelity and love.

This production is a fitting tribute to Elyot, who would probably have felt a certain sense of pride in having his play chosen to open the theatre’s 2017 Queer Season.

Amanda Mascarenhas’ set creates a foreboding air. This 1982 nicotine painted Kentish Town flat is tasteless, rather shabby and dominated by a burgundy Chesterfield sofa with an ill-matched red and white checked throw; the leather chosen for ease of wiping down after a messy evening.

William (Elliot Hadley) and Tony (Lee Knight) are already on stage miming when Tony asks about William’s one-night stand. Hadley spears a lightening charge into campness, gay wit and smut with fast-paced repartee, vivid facial expressions and deft movements. Over the top? At times, yes, but his performance captures that now rather dated, stereotypical portrayal of gayness which found outlets in many other performers of the period. He humourously maintains the momentum and William’s propensity to shock from scene to scene. The pair are something of a double act, but Tony is more than just a foil. Knight can play the humour and time the lines but he also vividly expresses the torment and affection within the relationship he has had with Greg for the last five years.

Jason Nwoga brings an of air calm to the situation. Physically imposing, he formidably reveals Greg as the rational, solid, breadwinning, academic who only just manages to tolerate the antics of the other two. When William is not there to distract, the flaws and feelings of their shaky relationship are exposed. It is their understanding and interpretation of one-night stands and employment of Robert as their cleaner that brings matters to a head.

Tom Lambert makes his London debut in this role. He relaxed as the play progressed but initially appeared more uncomfortable and ill-at-ease than his chararcter’s arrival in the somewhat intimidating household required. Surmounting the rapid learning curve of life with a gay couple he successfully engineered a convincing transition from cute coy boy to cute very forward boy with ease.

More mirth materialises when Elliot Hadley returns as the leather-clad Jürgen. At times it is difficult to see him as another character rather than William putting on a German accent and dressing for a night of sadomasochistic indulgence, but that would have made the scene even more complex.

Kevin Elyot will be remembered above all forMy Night with Reg. The dialogue in that play reflects his maturation in the nine years that separate it from Coming Clean. This work is not profound, but an insight into the period’s drama and issues, humour and portrayals. This production is a fitting tribute to Elyot, who would probably have felt a certain sense of pride in having his play chosen to open the theatre’s 2017 Queer Season.

Reviews by Richard Beck

The Barbican

Barry Humphries Weimar Cabaret

★★★★
The Bridewell Theatre

Earthquakes in London

★★★
Arts Theatre

Knights of the Rose

Multiple Venues

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope

★★★★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

The Play About My Dad

★★★
Drayton Arms Theatre

Two by Jim Cartwright

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Tony and Greg seem to have love all figured out. They’re in a committed relationship, but with room for a little sex-on-the-side whenever it takes their fancy. Their only rule? Never sleep with the same man twice.

When drop-dead gorgeous cleaner Robert walks into their lives, the fragile foundations of their sexual contract are thrown into jeopardy.