Set in the mid 1980s, Kevin Elyot’s My Night with Reg tells interacting stories of six gay men living in London. The play was first produced a decade later and thanks to the Green Carnation Company is now enjoying a revival.
The entire play is set in Guy’s living room, which is decorated modestly but for a continuous strip of curved neon lighting that underpins the stage. This no doubt denotes Guy’s conflicting desire to settle down with a loving partner and his wish to have the sexual confidence of his friends.
The eponymous Reg never appears in the play, but his legacy is central to the development of the piece. He’s described as both attractive and ugly; promiscuous and loving, depending on who is recalling their time with him. I personally love plays that employ the ‘unseen’ character plot device, it keeps the audience on its toes (think Daisy Renton in J B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls); it adds a fresh dimension to the story being told and displays a real confidence by the writer.
Guy (Simon Hallman) plays the archetypal parental figure. He’s a safe pair of hands; he holds a torch for John (Nicholas Anscombe) and holds the play and the friends together. By doing so he’s withdrawn from the ‘active’ search for love and therefore can be trusted with the group’s inner-most secrets.
One by one, each confides in Guy and shares their thoughts, desires and more importantly their moments with Reg. This lays the foundation for a conveyor belt of sharp witticisms and double entendres. Would these still resonate a quarter of a century later? In short, yes.
The two-act play isn’t, as is common, front loaded. By this I mean the first act is a short 35-minutes. After a 20-minute interval, act two is 75-minutes. This, however, works well, as the first act introduces us to the key cast members while giving a nod to those that are yet to appear in the second. When Benny (Steve Connelly) and Bernie (Marc Geoffrey) appear in the second act, we feel we already know them.
Ironically, My Night with Reg is now more than ever a period drama-comedy where nods are made to over-ear headphones; men wearing dungarees; music by the Police; and vinyl records. Also, although never specifically referenced or laboured the action falls under an uncertain shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that permeated the decade. The characters share experiences of wild, raucous and sometimes unprotected sexual encounters – the consequences of which slowly begin to take their toll.
My Night with Reg is a nostalgic window onto the gay scene of 1980’s London with an intrinsic message for today of friendship, love and longing, that everyone can relate to.★ ★ ★ ★
My Night with Reg by Kevin Elyot has been revived by Green Carnation Company. It is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from 23 to 25 January 2020. See website for full tour details.