My Night With Reg at the Donmar: additional thoughts, undiluted worship and an ill-thought crossover with The Pride

Julian Ovenden as John, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel. Photo Johan Persson

Julian Ovenden as John, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel. Photo Johan Persson

This blog has always been intended as a diary, and it’s only fair I write about what’s on my mind the most. Putting it this way, a second post about My Night With Reg is long overdue. To use a phrase John uses, Kevin Elyot’s play knocked me for six and I have spent a good deal of my time thinking about it, not least because I can’t bear to let it go. The ramblings that follow are the result.

Ten ways I love My Night With Reg (SPOILERS ahoy, I talk about the plot. A lot. Also sexual references. So we are clear). You can find my original, spoiler-free, review here:

1) The first time the play takes a sharp turn, and we realise we aren’t at a dinner party but at someone’s funeral, a remarkable – even hopeful – moment goes unnoticed under the weight of the situation (and our 21st century gaze): Daniel is anxious to get back to his dead lover’s mother. Suddenly we have the image of two men living together as a couple, not only in the eyes of their friends but in the eyes of their families (or at least one family). It’s tender and heartbreaking in the context of the funeral and, in the mid eighties, much less the norm than it is now. By comparison, in The Pride, Alexi Kaye Campbell has one (heterosexual) man remembering his uncle dying of AIDS 20 years back, the implication being the uncle’s partner was kept at arm’s length and away from the family circle.

2) The play is poignant in exquisitely delicate ways: At the early hours of the morning after Guy’s funeral, Daniel notices the dressing gown John wears and asks “Isn’t that Guy’s?” to which John replies: “Is it?”. It’s not discussed further but suddenly the intimacy of the fabric on skin carries all of Guy’s unrequited desires.

3) Does Daniel believe John when the latter denies an affair with Reg? I don’t think he does. For one thing John vacillates so long, his denial seems unconvincing. At the back of this, the next scene is extraordinarily moving: the two of them constantly reassess what friendship means and time and again, they come up with the same answer: as Daniel says lightly, casually earlier in the play “I ‘ve never believed a word you ‘ve said, but I still adore you”.

4) Talking about Daniel and John, why aren’t they a couple? Have they ever been? Daniel makes a joke about John’s ejaculation but it doesn’t seem more than teasing. Yet they are the big love affair of the play. Even when they avoid each other, they seek each other (what’s that line in Starman? “I had to phone someone so I picked on you”) and Reg doesn’t so much tear them apart as brings them together. It’s a complicated world with fine lines between love and friendship and sex, a world they preside over, and yet they seem to be in a twenty year chaste courtship sharpened by friendship. Which brings us to the cruelest turn of the play.

5) John is going to die, isn’t he? A cough earlier, a long moment heavy with subtext and undiluted dread as he parts with Daniel. Do they both suspect? Coming back to The Pride, the unreconstructed editor of the lads’ magazine seeking to employ Oliver – the one with the unexpected confession about the uncle dying of AIDS – could be John’s nephew. I can see John’s respectable siblings raising someone as thoughtless and brash as he is. Still, the thought of all this to come is desperately sad.

6) How come Daniel never expresses any fear of dying? Everyone else does.

Jonathan Broadbent as Guy and Lewis Reeves as Eric. Photo by Johan Persson

Jonathan Broadbent as Guy and Lewis Reeves as Eric. Photo by Johan Persson

7) Has Guy slept with Reg? (I know, bear with me). When Benny admits he didn’t always use protection when sleeping with Reg, Guy says “some of us did”. It feels specific rather than generic, and it opens the possibility. We never know how Daniel met Reg, Guy might have been there first.

8) The play will never win any anti-smoking campaign awards. Two characters take up the habit during the play. Frankly, I could use a fag myself by the end of it.

9) In one tiny way, the play is “dated”: what copywriter can afford to buy a flat in London these days? And they don’t plunge into conversations about house prices at the slightest excuse.

10) The play has certain returning themes, the most obvious the mention of one (the same?) french film in each act. Implicitly, it is My Night With Maud, where the play gets its name from (after all, John and Reg meet up at an Eric Rohmer retrospective). Another motif is Daniel always coming in the middle of an act and leaving before the end.

That’s it. For now. I make no promises I won’t revisit the subject.

The cast is as follows (it’s only fair I mention everyone, after all I only think of the characters in the context of these – rather fabulous – performances): Julian Ovenden as John, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel, Jonathan Broadbent as Guy, Matt Bardock as Benny, Richard Cant as Bernie, Lewis Reeves as Eric. Director: Robert Hastie.

2 responses to “My Night With Reg at the Donmar: additional thoughts, undiluted worship and an ill-thought crossover with The Pride

  1. Most of your thoughts I had myself watching it the first time. I also agree with most of it. Only: 1) When I have a look at my own family – my cousin’s grandma had no idea her grandson is gay – it was never a topic, his partner was just a “friend”, my parents were shocked how easily I could talk to his mum using the word gay – it might be generally be more the norm than in the eighties but there is still the big awkwardness for some.
    5) I never had the idea that John is going to die. I don’t see that the play would suggest it.
    6) That’s part of Daniel’s character – I don’t know if he really doesn’t think about it, maybe he just doesn’t want to and so does not talk about it. He seems to be uncomfortable facing the bad things- that’s why he doesn’t confront John more intensively with his suspicion of him having had an affair with Reg – he doesn’t want to see his friendship with John to be destroyed. Maybe that’s also the reason why they have not become a couple in the first place (what you describe in 4)
    7) I don’t think Guy has slept with Reg. He might have fancied it but he never did – part of his tragic character, as all his friends have and tell only him about it, and he who hasn’t has caught AIDS and has to die without the pleasure of the naughty sex (as he was raped). And Reg did it even with the boring Bernie, but not with him! Makes him feel an even bigger loser.
    9) I dont think that is important as the setting is in the eighties.

    It’s great when a play makes you think so much – and feel in my case. And yes, it’s a play about love and friendship and not a play about being gay and AIDS. I think it’s a modern classic.

    • Now you fired me up to talk about the play again, and I need very little encouragement or excuse. It’s hard to describe how much I love it and the production.

      1) I know what you mean. I didn’t mean to imply that everything now is easy. That’s why that simple moment stands out.

      5) I think John getting sick is well established within the play. Sadly. He coughs persistently at some point, and that is not meant to be an accident or a casual thing. He probably doesn’t know for sure, but he certainly suspects. The conversation with Dan at the end is far more subtle and I certainly didn’t take it all in the first time, but it’s heavy with tread.

      6) I think for Dan the worse has already happen. Especially from the second act onwards.

      7) Yes that was a leap too far. I ended up on a twitter conversation with Jonathan Broadbent – who plays Guy – and he said no, they didn’t sleep together and he should know!

      9) I was just being cheeky, of course it’s not important. On the other hand, London house prices are a knife in everyone’s heart, I couldn’t let it pass without a comment!

      Thanks for your thoughts, I certainly could go on forever.

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