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BWW Review: MY NIGHT WITH REG, Turbine Theatre

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Matthew Ryan directs the revival of Kevin Elyot's play set at the height of the AIDS epidemmic.

BWW Review: MY NIGHT WITH REG, Turbine Theatre

BWW Review: MY NIGHT WITH REG, Turbine Theatre The last time the always off-stage Reg was breaking hearts in London was at the Apollo Theatre back in 2015. Simpler times. Much has been said and many comparisons have been drawn between the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and everything that's happened in this pandemonium of a pandemic.

From the late response from the government to the rapid and unstoppable increase in number of deaths, it's undeniable that the two have something in common. That's why it's not surprising to see Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg pop up south of the river at Paul Taylor-Mills's Turbine Theatre.

Written in 1994, it's almost impossible to brand it as a homegrown response to Tony Kushner's Angels in America, which had premiered a few years back at the time. Set in the mid-80s, Elyot's play follows Guy and his group of friends as they navigate promiscuity, lust, friendship, and betrayal as the virus looms large on Guy's London flat.

Matthew Ryan's is a strong and confident revival in its casting. Paul Keating is the delightfully awkward host, Guy; we meet him as a nervous mess as he welcomes Edward M Corrie's nonchalant and imperturbable John - whom he's desperately in love with - at his housewarming party. Where the first strives to go the extra mile to please his first guest, Corrie exudes composure and boldness with a hint of arrogance.

The chasm between the two briefly collapses in the presence of Daniel (Gerard McCarthy). He barges into the flat like a bubbly tsunami, showing his appreciation for young Eric (James Bradwell) who's repainting Guy's conservatory and reconnecting with John. As they toast to "gross indecency" and catch up with one another, they establish their roles in each other's lives seamlessly.

The synergy of the cast is mesmerising. Elyot's script is as relevant as it's ever been, but the actors find the silences between the lines and nestles in them comfortably. From their body language to longing stares, there's a whole unspoken level to this production of Reg.

The extent of Reg's infidelity and the magnitude of the losses properly kick in in the second act while they attend a small get-together arranged after Reg's wake. Even Guy's extremely safe and careful way of living eventually backfires. Fear creeps in as their circle of friends starts to fall.

Alan Turkington and Stephen K Amos play long-term partners and ever-bickering Bernie and Benny. The latter's chirpiness is in stark contrast with the somber and collected funeral mood when they all meet just post-interval. He holds court recounting silly anecdotes and entertaining Guy's guests, while his partner Benny immediately reveals himself as an uncompromising and blunt force. "Every time I wake up, I check my body inch by inch" he says, revealing once and for all how terrified they all are.

As Daniel unveils his suspicions regarding Reg's faithfulness to him, Ryan's direction leaves the weight of the truth hovering on the stillness of the discussion. The titular character's death unravels John's self-assurance, giving Corrie the chance to deliver an inspired performance. His tormented portrayal reveals his sad and pained reality: being in love with Daniel's partner.

As he finally confesses the reach of his feelings for Reg to Guy, the latter has to sit through the love of his life's professing his devotion to someone else. The dynamic between the two actors is simply astonishing.

Throughout all this, Lee Newby's set design mirrors Guy's essence: warm, welcoming, and curated. The decor of the sitting room and adjoining conservatory is gorgeous. Earthy tones mix with plants and knick-knacks, while vinyl records and cassettes sit tidily on shelving units. It's an enviable living space, and everything in it screams Guy. This element of the production is especially visible in the very last scene of the play, where Ryan and Newby manage to capture John and Eric's strident presence in the flat. It's simply not theirs.

It's the details in the acting and visuals that truly make this production. Guy's velvet bow tie, his hanging onto a glass of Scotch for dear life when he entertains John, Eric's meekness and youth, Daniel's collar brooch, Bernie's weird hugging style, John's suspicious coughing at the end.

Ultimately, My Night With Reg is the portrait of a society in a crisis. It paints vulnerability, how delicate and precious friendships can be, and the underlying desire to love and to be loved.

My Night with Reg runs at Turbine Theatre until 21 August.

Photo credit: Mark Senior


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