BWW Review: COMING CLEAN, Trafalgar Studios
Playwright Kevin Elyot is best known for his brilliant AIDS-era play My Night With Reg, but after being revived at Islington's King's Head Theatre, his debut play Coming Clean has now transferred to the Trafalgar Studios, exploring male gay culture, fidelity and love set in London in the early eighties.
Tony and Greg have been together for five years. They are a couple but happy to have one night stands as long as they don't impinge on their relationship. When Tony employs Robert, a young, out-of-work actor, to clean their flat, he is unaware that Greg will embark on a five-month affair with Robert and fall in love. This infidelity tests both their relationship and their own attitudes to love and commitment.
Lee Knight is wonderfully natural as Tony, demonstrating wit and warmth which quickly crumbles as he is confronted by Greg's secret relationship with Robert. He is very believable as he extols his belief that infidelity is unrealistic, but his subsequent heartbreak feels brutal and real.
Elliot Hadley has a great time as irrepressible neighbour William. Wildly mischievous and camp, he exudes exuberance and fun as he takes full advantage of cruising the gay disco scene in London. He delivers his lines with excellent timing and intonation, but also lets his constantly upbeat side slip very effectively after he is brutally attacked by a man he has picked up. However, he spends rather too much of his time eating various pastries and talking with his mouth full, which starts to grate after a while.
Tom Lambert makes an impressive West End debut as Robert. He is convincing as he is introduced as a bashful and shy young man, often blushing and apologetic.
Stanton Plummer-Cambridge has a harder time with the thoroughly unlikable character of Greg. He is rude, cold and taciturn and ultimately utterly selfish, making it difficult to understand why either Tony or Robert would be so attracted to him.
Amanda Mascarenhas's excellent design is brilliantly detailed with a Yoghurt Maid on the kitchen shelf, a battered red leather sofa and red wine stains on the carpet. The result is such a grimy and dingy flat, it seems a little odd that Tony wants a cleaner when a decorator may have been more desirable.
Nic Farman's lighting is less successful and can be rather challenging on the eyes, with some scenes lit so moodily that it is a little hard to actually see the actors.
The fact that the play was Elyot's first is evident in several ways; Greg's character is somewhat underwritten and even though several months have supposedly elapsed, the contrast in Robert's character, from sensitive and innocent in the first act, to hard and calculating in the second is not convincing and feels false. The play's ending also feels stilted and abrupt, without any real conclusion or summary.
However, there is much to enjoy here too. The friendship between Tony and William is convincing and warm and much of the comedy is bittersweet, seen again and developed further in My Night with Reg. There is an innocence and freedom to this play, set before the AIDS crisis, but also heartbreaking reminders of the realities of gay life when William is beaten up.
Despite the flaws in the writing, this is an often genuinely funny play that feels authentic with some excellent performances.
Photo Credit: Scott Rylander