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”.

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Review: My Night With Reg, by Kevin Elyot, at the Donmar Warehouse

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel (foreground)and Julian Ovenden as John (background). Photo Johan Persson

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Daniel (foreground) and Julian Ovenden as John (background). Photo Johan Persson

Occasionally, watching a play, a swell of something catches me in a very personal way. It doesn’t happen that often and it’s a mystery. It’s like catching the biggest wave, exhilarating, heart-pounding, addictive. Two thirds into My Night With Reg, it happened. It wasn’t when the play was at its saddest, or at its funniest for thar matter. It was when defences were down, boundaries were blurring, longing and lust and friendship and regrets started pressing upon each other and you can’t catch your breath for chasing them.

Twenty years after it was first performed, My Night With Reg doesn’t feel like a play about AIDS. That is not to say it tries to hide it. Quite the opposite. There is a chilling casualness in the way AIDS runs through the story. It is what it is, nothing less, nothing more. But much of the play is about the moment you let slip and can’t get back, the casual betrayal you regret and can’t fix, the little hurts we inflict, love not returned and not expressed. Kevin Elyot’s play is relentless and tender and funny but it’s also tricksy. In fact, it has naughtiness in its (structural) heart: I won’t spoil it but things take a certain turn long before the audience realises. Its breeziness hides bravado and the bravado hides sorrows. Despite its drawing room conventions, it can throw you to the rocks any time. Continue reading

Review: Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, National Theatre, Lyttelton stage

Emma Lowndes as Liza and Paul Higgins as Boris. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Emma Lowndes as Liza and Paul Higgins as Boris. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

In conversations about seminal productions of recent years, specifically seminal productions I have missed, Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard, performed at the National Theatre in 2010, often comes up. A russian classic, adapted by Andrew Upton, directed by Howard Davies, designed by Bunny Christie and with Paul Higgins and Justine Mitchell in the cast, made a huge impression to anyone who saw it. The current production of Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, with many of the same people involved, inevitably carries high expectations. And they are not squandered.

Early 20th century Russia, the middle classes play and live in the protected bubble of self-delusion and good intentions while a new world is tearing down the gates. Protasov (Geoffrey Streatfeild) has a god-like insight into the future of science and cosmos but human interactions escape him (and he escapes them). His wife Yelena (Justine Mitchell), an intelligent earthy woman, desperately tries to connect her husband to herself and to the world, and her continuous failure wounds her deeply. His friend Boris (Paul Higgins) despises illusions and has clarity of vision, but his inability to act and affect change increasingly drains him of hope, with only his love for Liza giving him focus. Protasov’s sister Liza (Emma Lowndes), a vulnerable woman who feels the world as a stab, clings to, spars with and rebuffs Boris in equal measures. Other friends, lovers, work associates and servants swarm around the family, the focus of the community for generations and the eye of the hurricane to come.

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My top ten theatre productions of 2012 so far

Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in Constellations. Photo Simon Annand

I am not good with deadlines. Not so much that I miss them but I like pushing the boundaries, doing things last minute. So blogging about my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year some time in September is entirely in character. And everyone knows the year truly starts in September, right? (That’s my excuse anyway).

Before we move onto the actual list, a little teaser: There are four play starting with C and four plays revolving around exact sciences. It’s fair to say any play starting with C and about exact science is likely to be a huge hit with me. There are two productions from the Sheffield Crucible (more often than not, plays I see in Sheffield end up on my top ten list, Daniel Evans has done a great job), two adaptations by Simon Stephens (as well as being a great writer, he has been everywhere this year), and two plays starring John Heffernan.

In strictly alphabetical order, my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year: Continue reading

The Hamlet Challenge Entry No 2: Copenhagen at Sheffield theatres

Before going to Sheffied this past Thursday, I knew very little about Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen. Something about nuclear physics and the bomb. I quite like not knowing anything about a play, all part of discovering everything in the moment.

Geoffrey Streatfeild as Heisenberg in Copenhagen Photo by Manuel Harlan

In the end, Copenhagen proved a superb play in a superb production. The play itself reminded me of Arcadia, with its visceral approach of ideas, science, morality & mortality. I think that Arcadia might be the best play ever written, so anything that comes close is a masterpiece.

You can call the production challenging, but that might miss the point. It was challenging, both because it presents something important and profound, but also because of the challenge of hanging on in a fabulous emotional and intellectual ride. Like skiing down a slope, a motif of the play itself. Continue reading