Review: Grand Guignol by Carl Grose, at the Southwark Playhouse

Paul Chequer, Robert Portal, Emily Raymond. Photo Steve Tanner

Paul Chequer, Robert Portal, Emily Raymond. Photo Steve Tanner

Saying Carl Grose’s Grand Guignol, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, is perfect for Halloween is a huge understatement, as well as a disservice. Bloody, gory, funny and twisted, it has you snort-laughing through your nose and then checking if any blood came out. It has the innocent unpretentious naffness of 19th century travelling shows, yet it starts getting to you, because “actors, playwrights, lunatics” are all “imminently fascinating”, especially when there is no line between them, blurred or otherwise.

For all its upfront silliness, it’s knowingly – but not annoyingly – smart, and surprisingly incisive. More importantly, it’s about creativity and the theatre, which means I was bound to love it with a love that knows no bounds. Give me a play within a play, a wink behind the scenes, a seedy part of town with a company of actors –  and I am happy as pig in shit. Which is the point: it’s unselfconsciously colourful, yet playfully tender. Continue reading

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