Kevin Elyotand’s 1994 comedy ‘My Night With Reg’ is a heartwarming exploration of the lives of a group of friends set against the backdrop of a mounting AIDS crisis. Winning an Olivier Award for Best Comedy after its transfer to the West End’s Criterion Theatre in its original run, this revival directed by Matt Ryan is an ambitious attempt to capture the fragile lives of the gay community in the 80s as personal insecurities and anxieties quickly gave way to a larger question about their legacy and mortality. This production by The Turbine Theatre is successful in highlighting some of these dilemmas but is unable to sustain the larger argument put forth by the playwright.
The story follows the lives of 30-something men, some friends and others mere acquaintances, over a period of several years. There’s Guy (Paul Keating), whose socially inept mannerisms and unrequited romances are exceeded only by his efforts to keep the rest of the group together even stake of his personal honour. Guy is enamoured with the elusive John (Edward M Corrie), whose fickle nature and general disregard for anyone but himself adds a different layer to the group’s dynamics. Then there’s the charismatic Daniel (Gerard McCarthy) whose travel escapades and a characteristically jovial outlook bring much-needed humour to the table. There’s 18-year old Eric (James Bradwell) whom Guy met at a local gay bar who then helps him decorate his new flat. Completing the group is Bernie (Alan Turkington) and Benny (Stephen K Amos), a gay couple whose relationship is under strain as each suspects the other of infidelity.
Much of the action unfolds at Guy’s flat in London, beginning with his housewarming party when he and John reconnect after many years. The story follows each group member’s run-ins with Reg, the same Reg mentioned in the title yet who never actually appears on stage, and their sexual activity with him. It is suggested that Reg is sleeping around with every man he possibly can, as his affairs with John, Ben and Bernie are revealed. Reg’s alleged promiscuity lays the ground for an elaborate network of lies, coverups and betrayals – all of which is threatened to collapse when Reg passes away due to complications by AIDS. As the group gathers together at Guy’s flat following Reg’s funeral, the night takes a turn for the worse as accusations and confessions fly thick and fast.
Elyotand’s text is deliciously funny and witty, giving us a sharp insight into the lives of its vibrant characters, each of whose distinct personalities lead to conflicts. Keating’s portrayal of Guy is heartwarming and emotional, elevating the character’s worsening loneliness and fears of dying alone with dry humour that makes the audience root for him all throughout. Other performers also do well, especially McCarthy’s exuberant Daniel and Bradwell’s soft-spoken Eric, but their energies seem to be in dissonance with each other as some play the text as a drama whilst others play it on more humorous undertones. In the first half, we are unable to appreciate the underlying emotions and subtext, as the superficiality of the character’s actions takes precedence and the show risks being reduced to an almost caricaturist portrayal of gay men.
The second half moves away from this reductionist approach and allows us to get a better sense of what’s not being said, by focusing more on silences and looks shared between the characters as they come to terms with Reg’s death and the uncomfortable conversations it prompts. The transition from the night of Reg’s funeral to the aftermath of Guy’s death is executed well, catching us by surprise to gently remind us of the debilitating AIDS crisis and its profound, almost inconspicuous impact on those who watched their loved ones pass away one by one. The light design is exceedingly minimal and unfocused, sometimes drawing our attention away from the characters onto the set. The set design by Lee Newby, whilst visually stunning, is used sparingly and only offers us an insight into the kind of life that Guy wanted to share with a partner but was never able to.
To summarize, My Night With Reg is an enjoyable revival of Elyotand’s humorous exploration of the lives of Guy and his friends as they lived through the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Between silly arguments, unkempt promises and grave accusations, they find themselves confronted by larger questions about grief and mortality as they struggle to come to terms with the exceedingly ordinary deaths from an extraordinary disease.
You can watch My Night With Reg at The Turbine Theatre till 21st August 2021. Learn more and book your tickets at https://www.theturbinetheatre.com/whats-on/my-night-with-reg
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 28th July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★