Is there an issue with capturing plays from the second half of the twentieth century that deal with gay issues of the period? The Southwark Playhouse recently managed a production of Staircase (1966) that was no more than adequate and now we have an attempt by the accomplished director Matt Ryan to stage Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg (1994, set in 1985), at the Turbine Theatre, that turns out to be very disappointing.
largely lacklustre and understated
Visually it all looks very promising, thanks to a detailed design by Lee Newby. On entering the confines of this under-the-arch theatre a densely packed drawing room awaits. There are white wooden-framed, floor-to-ceiling shelves on two sides, overrun with books, bottles, ornaments, the nostalgic collection of LP records and all other sorts of paraphernalia that serve as a divide from the planted-infested conservatory behind. They are currently being painted, which explains the presence of the lusted-after young decorator, Eric, from Birmingham. This role gives James Bradwell his London theatre debut and he manages to combine a degree of innocence and youthful openness that contrast well with the secrecy and bitterness that characterises some of the others.
The flat belongs to Guy, whose prissiness is well-captured by Paul Keating who also provides much of the humour. He has an unspoken crush on John (Edward M Corrie) who is having an affair behind the back of the mincing, swanning Daniel (Gerard McCarthy) who is Reg’s boyfriend. The rest have also had their night with Reg, who mysteriously never appears, except for Guy, whose loneliness and isolation it emphasises. Stephen K Amos brings some much needed life, humour and good timing and earthiness to the production as Benny, the bus-driver. He appears as an unlikely partner to the ever-critical Bernie, whose sense of propriety is enhanced by Alan Turkington’s piercing Northern Irish accent.
All notable actors in their own right, their casting fails to gel as a group of men who have supposedly known each other since their university days. Despite the tears and embraces, the lack of chemistry denies depth and credibility to this production. Although described by Elyot as a comedy, the fear of AIDS and the loss of friends and partners provide ever-present grim undertones and at times more focussed conversation that also make it a play with much sadness. In a production that is largely lacklustre and understated these two elements remain superficial with an air of indecision hovering over whether it is comedy or tragedy. On occasions no distinction is made, creating laughter at tragic moments which cannot even be regarded as black comedy.
My Night With Reg is an award-winning play that has been the subject of some outstanding interpretations and it’s disheartening that this one will not be among them.