The Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play, My Night With Reg, opened this week. With strong direction from Robert Hastie and a superb cast, the production serves as a fitting tribute to the recently deceased author of this sensitive and sensationally funny play.
As a group of gay friends meet over the years, first in celebration then in the wake of the devastating AIDS crisis, their promiscuous lives are observed in a quietly profound and structured way. Questions of love, life and death come to the fore in a play about the passage of time and the importance of truth.
This should be a grim night out. Even the weather, in each of the three scenes, is the perpetually wet English summer. Yet Elyot’s triumph is to make My Night With Reg so funny. With a nod to classic farce and plenty of blue jokes, the laughs come thick and fast. Underneath the wickedly funny crudity, there’s great skill: switching between comedy and tears with the speed of a lightning flash.
The characters are finely drawn and the acting lives up to Elyot’s writing. The plot pivots around the never seen Reg – the lover of so many – but our perspective comes from the floppy-haired, ever cautious Guy, made so endearing by Jonathan Broadbent that he becomes a real hero. Guy’s university friends are appropriately irresistible, played by Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild with both charisma and convincing depth. There are also talented turns by Matt Bardock and Richard Cant, while Lewis Reeves as Eric, the youngest character, gives another strong performance, bringing intergenerational insight to events.
As the play’s first major revival, the big question is, inevitably, how well it has aged. Despite being very much rooted in its times, addressing a specific community that has changed a great deal in the past 20 years, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how fresh My Night With Reg feels. Unrequited love is a universal theme, after all, and Elyot explores deep emotions in an appealingly uncensorious way. Best of all, the humour, while too blunt to describe as sparkling, still shines.
Until 27 September 2014
Photos by Johan Persson
Written 6 August 2014 for The London Magazine