With its first-rate ensemble cast intact, Donmar Warehouse’s acclaimed revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 comedy of gay manners My Night with Reg makes an effortless transition to the West End’s Apollo Theatre.
Recalling Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, in a way that is unavoidable for stories set during the onslaught of AIDS, My Night With Reg seduces with breezy humour before delivering some affecting, even devastating, blows.
A group of thirty-something university friends gather to laugh, cry, reminisce and lie about themselves, with the odd tell-all breakdown. The titular Reg is never seen, but is a sexual connection that binds the friends together, whether they all know it or not.
Peter McKintosh’s completely realistic set is slightly dwarfed by the grander scale of the Apollo stage, but is neatly framed by soaring panels of royal blue. The occasional fall of rain on the rear glass conservatory creates a cozy atmosphere for the single setting of Guy’s London flat.
Director Robert Hastie has drawn confident, natural performances from the cast, facilitating a familiar comfort and intimacy amongst the six men. Some of the dramatic elements in Elyot’s text are unexpected and unsettling, and Hastie neither provides pat solutions nor shies from the grim truth. The actions and choices of the characters provide plenty of food for thought, discussion and debate.
If there is a slight weakness in the design, it is that the progression of time is very difficult to detect. Relying solely on audience intelligence (which is, I suppose, not to be underestimated) and knowledge of the play, time moves forward by a couple of years at two points, but on neither occasion is there a change of costume or décor to give any hint about this.
The magnetic link that the group revolves around is the handsome and carefree John, played to perfection by charismatic actor Julian Ovenden. John’s reckless sexual proclivities and independent wealth are a throwback to the 1980s setting, a party that seemingly had to end sometime. In Ovenden’s highly capable hands, John is far more sympathetic and accessible than the entitled cad he may have been.
Jonathan Broadbent expertly captures the cheery façade that masks the brittle heartbreak Guy carries. Geoffrey Streatfeild deftly balances gregarious humour with tear-streaked anger and longing. The trio of John, Guy and Daniel (Streatfeild) have a camaraderie and shorthand that recalls the central trio of female best friends in Mamma Mia!.
Richard Cant gamely takes on the quirks of prudish bore Bernie, a man broken by the looming terror of HIV on the previously idyllic lives of the friends. Matt Bardock gives Bernie’s partner Benny a resigned air of acceptance of the unavoidable fate that most of the circle seem doomed to face.
In a breakout performance, reactive newcomer Lewis Reeves more than holds his own as good-natured local lad Eric, a youth whose informed caution and reserve represent the new wave of homosexuality at the time.
Sure to have been missed by scores of theatregoers in its soldout season at the Donmar, My Night With Reg is highly recommended viewing.
My Night with Reg plays at Apollo Theatre until 11 April 2015.
My Night with Reg was reviewed 7.45pm Saturday 17 January 2015
Photos [from Donmar Warehouse]: Jonah Persson