20th Aug2014

My Night With Reg – Theatre

by timbaros

images-228My Night With Reg takes us back to the time in the mid-1980’s when gay men were rapidly getting sick and dying even quicker from AIDS.

Now playing at The Donmar Warehouse Theatre, My Night With Reg’s titular character – Reg – is not played by an actor. He exists only in the background, and he’s the man all of the characters have been with but can’t have, because he’s the boyfriend of campy Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfield). There’s John (a very good Julian Ovenden), whose secretly having an affair with Reg. Then there’s gay couple Benny (Matt Bardock) and Bernie (Richard Cant). They’ve been together for so long they get on each other’s nerves. Benny confesses that he has had sex with Reg a few times because Reg can’t get enough of his cock, and Bernie confesses that he’s slept with Reg once, just once, and that it was very good.
And who do John, Benny and Bernie confess their predilections to? To Guy (Jonathan Broadbent). Guy is plain looking – he looks and acts older than what he actually is, he’s not in good shape, and he’s just not that attractive. Yet, when the three men confess their affairs with Reg to Guy, he says “am I the only man that Reg hasn’t slept with?” Well, the answer is yes because the other character in the play, Eric (Lewis Reeves), a sexy young man from Birmingham who Guy has hired to paint his veranda, confesses to being with a man ‘just the one time’, and even though Eric didn’t know the man’s name, Guy knows that it was Reg.
My Night With Reg covers the span of four years, with all of it taking place in Guy’s flat, decorated in the way one would expect from him: modern with a touch of European style. The veranda is the piece de resistance, and where Eric spends most of his time painting. Three scenes make up My Night With Reg (without an interval). Scene one starts with the song “Every Breathe You Take,” which Eric is listening to on his headphones. Meanwhile, colorful flashing lights pulse on the edges of the stage like a 1980’s disco. John has gone to visit Guy, and Guy reminds him that it’s been nine and one half years since they last saw each other. John is the handsome one. A never ageing gay man, with a sexy body, who has family money yet no real ambition in life. Daniel shows up to see the men, and makes a beeline for John, all so affectionately touching him and kissing him. Eric, meanwhile, is in the background, innocently painting away, yet all so sexy.
It’s scene two where the real emotions (and the confessions) take place. Guy decides to have everyone over, and it’s here that Reg’s getting around becomes apparent. Bernie and Benny bicker as usual, and Eric finally becomes one of the men, joining in on their conversation. Meanwhile John is feeling raw, especially after telling Guy that he’s in love with Reg, so Benny takes him out to the veranda for some unseen escapade, while Bernie is in the kitchen. And Guy is not able to confess to John that he’s been in love with him for years, since they were in college together.
And unfortunately, just like in the 1980’s, gay men die of AIDS, including Reg. Though he’s not seen, his presence is felt throughout the play, and even more so near the end, when the characters mourn his death. Both Daniel and John break down, and John doesn’t have the heart (or the guts) to tell Daniel that he had been sleeping with Reg. So we’re left with innocent Eric and not so innocent John at the end, enjoying each other’s company and then some, with John reminiscing about friends come and gone.
Kevin Elyot, who wrote My Night With Reg, unfortunately passed away in June after a long illness. So it’s a tribute to him that his play still stands up 20 years after it was first produced, at The Royal Court Theatre. Back then, in 1994, gay men were still dying from the AIDS virus, and many lost friends and lovers –  this was right before the introduction of the drug cocktail combination that has saved so many lives. So is a play like My Night With Reg still relevant? We’ve seen these types of characters before, but in the intimate setting that is The Donmar Warehouse, we feel like we’re in the same room with them, listening in on their conversations, and being a part of the gang. And while there’s unnecessary gratuitous nudity near the end (not that I’m complaining), it’s the acting that is what this show is all about. There’s not one false note among the six men. Especially good is Ovenden as John, who’s in Downton Abbey. His character goes through so many emotions, and Ovenden carries his torch for Reg throughout. Broadbent stands out as Guy, unloved but always in love. Director Robert Hastie keeps the play’s pace going throughout, and by the time it’s over, you don’t realize that one hour and fifty minutes have gone by without an interval. Do you want to go see My Night With Reg? Book tickets now before it’s too late.