Nearing the end of its run at the Donmar Warehouse, Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg is firecracker of a production directed by Robert Hastie that’s has more than proved its worth on its 20th anniversary revival.
Despite its 80s/early 90s setting and the advances in both HIV treatment and gay rights (although lets not get carried away, things still have a long way to go) , My Night With Reg feels fresh and punchy, its emotional pull as strong as it would have been when it debuted in 1994. It’s a play that deals with difficult themes, but it’s not a difficult play to watch.
My friend said My Night With Reg reminded her of Abigail’s Party as, like noisy old Abigail, Reg is conspicuous by his absence and it’s all set within one living room. My Night With Reg also has that mix of comedy and lightly-played darkness and deep sadness. The first ‘half’ (the play runs as a continuous for 1 hour 45 mins with the three segments moving fluidly into each other) of the play begins at Guy’s (Jonathan Broadbent) flat warming. It’s 1984 and characters’ lives are largely careless and frivolous. The first (early) guest is John (Downton Abbey’s Julian Ovenden) the louche, handsome object of Guy’s decade-long unrequited love. Inadvertently joining the party is handsome young Brummie Eric (Lewis Reeves), there painting Guy’s conservatory. New to London, he’s the confident, savvy voice of a future generation.
Guy is heart-breaking figure. Universally liked, desperate to please, he’s continually overlooked and overshadowed by his funnier, ruder friends. His most successful relationship is with a sex line worker called Brad whose USP is to bark like a dog. Meanwhile Guy’s puppy-dog eyes at John remain unreciprocated. Bursting in on the awkward party of three is Dan (one half of the ministerial duo ‘The Inbetweeners’ in The Thick Of It, Geoffrey Streatfeild) who is fantastically camp and inappropriate, his toasts to ‘sodomy’ and ‘gross indecency’ summing up a life of fun and frivolity that is about to screech to a half.
The play deals with time beautifully, there’s a barely a pause before we’re back in Guy’s flat, Dan now sombre, the group swelled by Bernie (a wonderful Richard Cant whose fantastic study of a boring man creates a hugely watchable character) and his boyfriend Benny (Matt Bardock), a cocky bus driver, cue bus innuendos). But their number is also depleted; this is Reg’s wake and his won’t be the last we see.
My Night With Reg isn’t just about death, it’s about growing old, friendships and love. You’re as likely to be crying with laughter as you are with grief. And it’s not just the dead you’re crying for, it’s the loneliness of those they leave behind. Sadly, Kevin Elyot didn’t get to live to see his play revived on its 20th anniversary as he died in June this year, but his play will surely live on, not least in your head long after you’ve seen it.
by Suzanne Elliott