Matthew Ryan’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play, set at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-80s, makes for a lightly entertaining evening at the Turbine Theatre. Structured over three acts, the play touches on areas of love, loneliness and infidelity, centred around the never-seen character Reg, and the impact of his promiscuity on a community of gay friends.
The story starts at Guy’s housewarming party, played brilliantly by Paul Keating. Nearly forty and living the single life, desperate for love – or at the very least, company – we feel really sorry for him. There’s a look in Keating’s eye of loss and heartbreak. He holds onto the secret of his love for an old school friend John (Edward M Corrie) and there’s a real sense that it’s eating him up on the inside. He looks so sad and, despite the new home with all its decoration and plants, completely lost.
It takes a bit of time for the play to settle. There’s quite a bit of innuendo in the first act, and the company spend a bit too much time playing for laughs, waiting for the jokes to land. As the opening of the second act brings a much more sombre tone to the whole thing, everything starts to feel much more natural. This is particularly helped by Stephen K Amos and Alan Turkington as the calm and collected Benny and his uptight partner Bernie, as the bickering couple. Amos’s performance, in particular, is totally at one with the text, and whilst others in the cast have a tendency to hype up the performativity of campness, Amos refuses to give in to this, instead, finding truth and authenticity with each of the lines, even the way he holds his scotch glass. Turkington holds his body stiffly, managing to embody the rigidity of the character whilst keeping the audience gripped to each word of his clipped sentences.
Gerard McCarthy plays Daniel, partner of the titular Reg, with a high energy camp at first. He flails his arms and throws himself around Guy’s tiny flat. Whilst he does tone this down as necessary for the second act – which follows the funeral of the aforementioned Reg – he finds himself in the tricky situation of needing to make quite a sudden switch to a place of vulnerability. McCarthy’s flamboyant Daniel is well contrasted with Corrie’s restrained John, whose focus is only properly disrupted as he tries to come to terms with the death of his former lover. Perhaps the strongest scene of the play is one between Keating and Corrie, as Guy is forced to comfort his friend’s grief, whilst he himself is grieving at his own unrequited love for John.
Completing the cast is the youngest of the crowd, Eric, a decorator Guy meets at a local gay bar. Played with a very genuine innocence and almost gullibility about him, James Bradwell is able to poignantly capture the character’s development, embodied in the smallest moments; his hands or fingers not quite sure what to do at times, a slight tilt of the head expressing uncertainty about the given situation.
I can’t decide whether elements of Elyot’s dialogue feel a little dated, or if something in the delivery, the pace, hinders the flow of the story. The Turbine is a cosy tunnel of space, and Lee Newby’s set is perhaps the winning feature of the whole show. Everything in Guy’s flat is arranged neatly in a complex grid of shelves, and Newby is able to capture Guy’s loneliness in the design with stacks of cassettes, books, artworks and a forest of plants, probably to give him enough company to keep busy. Despite Guy’s desire for partnership, he seems very much settled in this compact apartment which has everything he might need. Rachel Sampley’s lighting does an astute job at matching state to the atmosphere, poignantly capturing the facial expressions of various characters in particular moments of pain, loss or longing.
There are moments, particularly in the first act, where I think Ryan could do more to find the nuance in the text and relationships. It feels as if sometimes the performances are almost slightly too exaggerated for the space, especially given how small the flat is. I found myself more drawn to moments of stillness; eye contact, or a lack of in some cases. It’s an engaging revival of Elyot’s text, and the performances from Amos and Turkington are probably alone worth the visit.
Review by Joseph Winer
This modern classic, which captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself, won both the 1995 Olivier and Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, after its premiere at the Royal Court and subsequent transfer to the West End.
Set in Guy’s London flat, old friends and new gather to party through the night. This is the summer of 1985 and, for Guy and his circle, the world is about to change forever, thanks to the mounting AIDS crisis.
Stephen K Amos (Benny), James Bradwell (Eric), Edward M Corrie (John), Paul Keating (Guy), Gerard McCarthy (Daniel) and Alan Turkington (Bernie), will star in Kevin Elyot’s award-winning, and much loved dark comedy, My Night With Reg.
Paul Taylor-Mills & The Turbine Theatre present
MY NIGHT WITH REG
The Turbine Theatre
21 July – 21 August 2021
By Kevin Elyot
Directed by Matt Ryan
Designs by Lee Newby