MY NIGHT WITH REG
Apollo Theatre, LONDON, Saturday 24th January, 2015
Before Russell T Davies brought thitherto unseen aspects of gay life to the TV screen with the ground-breaking series Queer As Folk, Kevin Elyot wrote this acerbic comedy of manners that must have in some way blazed a trail for Davies to follow.
On the surface, it’s a conventional three-act play but it’s the content that marks Reg out as something new. The characters are gay men of different types gathering for a dinner party in the London flat of mild-mannered loner Guy – this disparate bunch is united by the threat to their way of life that first reared its hideous head in the early 1980s: the spectre at this feast is AIDS, which like an invisible villain, does away with people they know.
It turns out that the characters have something else in common. The eponymous but never seen Reg has touched a lot of… hearts, shall we say.
Secrets come to the fore, relationships come under strain and lives are changed forever, in Elyot’s snappy and witty script where the one-liners come thick and fast, so to speak.
As loner Guy, Jonathan Broadbent cuts a sympathetic figure, consumed by his unspoken, unrequited love for John – a dashing Julian Ovenden, who captures the character’s shallow vanity and selfishness perfectly. But even John has his secrets and passions.
Geoffrey Streatfield’s Daniel is the campest of the lot. His caustic humour barely masks his torment and vulnerability in a striking performance, but it is the arse-achingly boring Bernie (Richard Cant) who touches the heart with his brittle insecurity.
Matt Bardock (formerly behind the wheel of an ambulance in Casualty) is bus driver Benny, a refreshingly blokey note of contrast among these sensitive flowers, like a house brick in a bouquet of roses.
Lewis Reeves is appealing as young ingénue Eric from Birmingham, embarking on his big gay adventure.
All in all, they’re an amusing bunch and director Robert Hastie manages the changes in tone superbly – we’re never far away from a moment of anguish or high drama, and just as close to the next expertly timed wisecrack. The characters continue to skate on thin ice while cracks appear beneath them and people disappear.
Now something of a period piece, My Night With Reg is worth seeing for more than its significance in theatre history and its depiction of gay lives on stage. It remains an entertaining and relevant piece (AIDS hasn’t gone away, boys and girls) with its tenderness, humanity and bittersweet world-view still intact.