There are few plays that sit in the genre of gay dramatic literature and stand out as unarguably necessary and canonical, surpassing their temporality and remaining an evocative and meaningful representation of gay life. In a category that features such paramount heavyweights like Angels in America or The Normal Heart, there is still a place for a play like My Night With Reg. This revival highlights the brilliance of playwright Kevin Elyot, and shines light on the play’s importance 20 years on from its original production.
Elyot’s dialogue is a beautiful dichotomy of humour and pain as he brings together a group of six gay men in a study of friendship, love and death. This revival, directed by Robert Hastie, is intelligent and deeply moving. With no interval, the production swiftly moves the characters forward through three different moments in time, and in doing so opens up wounds of betrayal and unrequited love, and hauntingly deals with death in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic.
Elyot uses the off-stage character of Reg so brilliantly to bind these six characters together. Reg is a phantom menace — one that breaks hearts and is the catalyst of lustful trysts and adultery. He is a storm that wreaks havoc on all the characters’ lives.
All six actors hold their own in this ensemble production of modern gay life, each depicting the breadth of differences and personalities in the gay community. Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) is a sweet and tragic character who fauns after the troubled lothario John (Julian Ovenden). Guy is the only innocent one in the friendship group, a kind soul plagued by unrequited love that makes his tragedy all the more powerful. Rounding off the trio of former public school friends is the comedic dandy Daniel (Geoffery Streatfield), who is at the epicentre of all the adulterous heartbreak. Juxtaposed with the ageing and experienced gay men is Eric (Lewis Reeves). Eric is young and just coming into his gayness — he seeks advice from the older men, constantly asking if it is right to sleep with so many people or wondering if any of them have ever been in love? He is of a new generation, one that is scared of the AIDS crisis and is quickly trying to discern how to operate in this new world.
My Night With Reg is masterful in its depiction of six men in a world dealing with the ramifications of AIDS after its outbreak. It is as important a production to witness now as it would have been twenty years ago. Elyot’s characters are evocative and enthralling, living in a world of comedy that ebbs and flows into the drama and anxiety of disease running rampant on their community.
My Night With Reg is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 27 September. For more information and tickets, see the Donmar Warehouse website.
Photo by Johan Persson.