REMEMBERING REG…A REVIEW WORTH A REMIX
Thought I should see how it feels in a bigger theatre, after writing at the Donmar that Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play is “pretty much perfect: a twist on the traditional drawing-room, single-set comedy of sex, love, friendship and death. Directing, Robert Hastie does it full justice. In two unbroken hours here is a constantly involving, slyly funny and heartbreaking production”.
I agree with myself. Its five stars still shine bright, and it is a joy to see it again – with a remarkably warm affectionate house, too, more loud uninhibited laughs and “aaahs” of pity for poor lovelorn Guy than on the press night.
The audience at a matinee was gratifyingly mixed, uncultish. Although it is famously a play about a group of gay men and the AIDS crisis of the 1990s, it doesn’t bother with the familiar ideas on that subject: social prejudice, angsty gay identity, all that. Elyot – though the times were tricky – is not demanding gay rights, but demonstrating through the lovability of the characters that they are just like any other men. Blokey, comradely, puzzled by the conflict between liberated desire and the deeper hunger for intimacy and fidelity. . For all their campery they are just six people in a tangle of affections. Even the weariness of long partnerships is deliciously acknowledged in Benny the bus-driver’s observation that he only notices what a bore his lover is when they’re in company.
There are of course differences. In a gay play – certainly at that period – you can complicate your sexual relationships faster than Feydeau. And the wit is more uninhibited , more locker-room than in almost any straight love-tangle play: satiric, savage and explicit and often painfully funny. But there is always a recognizable current of deep feeling, and the subtlety of it endures and grows.
So to return to my Donmar review, “It is not a play of stereotypes and special pleading. It drills into universals: the uses and limits of sex, the blind alley and brief relief of hookups, the yearning for intimacy, the ache of jealousy, Auden’s “grave evening demand for love” . At its heart is a superb performance by Jonathan Broadbent as Guy: tubby, fussy, decent, maternal, frustrated, everybody’s confidant and nobody’s first choice, achingly funny and heartbreakingly noble. Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfield are the glamour-boys whose conquistador pride crumbles into grief and longing; Lewis Reeves the barman, wisest of them all. Outside that circle – though nobody escapes Reg – Richard Cant is funny and sad as Bernie, sinuously lovesick for his nonchalant brutal bus-driver Benny (Matt Bardock, cocksure in every sense).”