South of the Thames, near the old Battersea Power Station, is the Turbine Theatre. It’s a lovely small intimate space with a very welcoming staff, jars of sweets on the bar, and a reputation for putting on some first-rate productions. So, I was really looking forward to my visit there for their latest show, a revival of the modern gay classic My Night With Reg.
It’s 1985 and Guy (Paul Keating) is in a celebratory mood. He’s just moved into his new flat and has invited some friends around to christen it. As a young painter and decorator – and barman at Guy’s local – Eric (James Bradwell) finishes painting the conservatory, the first guest arrives very early. Normally this would be exasperating to any host but seeing his old university friend John (Edward M Corrie) in his home is so exciting, Guy overlooks the social faux pas. The two haven’t seen each other for years and their initial meeting is slightly awkward. This is in part due to John’s restrained and slightly aloof personality, and Guy’s nervousness at seeing the love of his life once more. The atmosphere changes when Daniel (Gerard McCarthy) arrives. Daniel blows into the flat with a bottle of champagne and a toast to ‘gross indecency’ that breaks the mood and gives everyone a chance to relax and catch up. As fast as he arrives, and after casting an approving eye over Eric, Daniel departs for a business trip to Sydney after asking Guy to keep an eye on his boyfriend Reg.
Time progresses and there is another gathering in Guy’s flat. This time it is not so cheerful as Guy, Daniel, and John, together with long term partners Bernie (Alan Turkington) and Benny (Stephen K Amos) are together following a funeral, one of many the boys have attended. The mood is sombre, and everyone seems to have a secret to share with Guy, who just wants everyone to be fed, watered and get along.
There are two elements missing in Kevin Elyot’s script for My Night With Reg. the eponymous Reg himself and the word AIDS. They may not be seen or spoken but both hover over and dominate this story of a group of gay friends trying to have normal lives as a global pandemic rips through their community. Reg may not appear, but we all know what he was like – let’s be honest we all probably know a “Reg”. And that is one of the great strengths of the writing here. Each character is finely drawn and recognisable. Not only that but the relationships between characters have been worked out to the Nth degree. In the first scene, when Guy, Daniel and John are together, the pecking order between them is established with no words being said. You know immediately that, though university may have been a long time ago, they will always automatically drop into their respective group roles whenever they are together. The only slightly odd note is the pairing of Bernie, a conservatory obsessed bore and Benny, a cockney bus driver with wandering eyes. Whilst I loved each character separately, there was something about the relationship between the two that didn’t sit quite right for me, and I was left wondering why each had put up with the other for as long as they had.
The personalities of each character have been translated from the page to the stage perfectly thanks to Matt Ryan’s astute direction. Little things define the characters. For example, the strange and restrained way that Bernie hugs people, the attention to detail Eric – whose dungarees are way too clean for a professional – gives to his painting, and the silences that speak volumes. I also loved the transition from scene two to three, and not for the reason you might think. It’s a smooth movement from one to another using a piece of music to link the two. Attention to detail is obviously important in this production and this is really highlighted by the fact that Daniel is soaked when he has come into the flat after walking in the rain.
When it comes to the acting, I don’t think it can be faulted, and I’m really going to single out Paul Keating here. Of all the characters in the show, Guy is the one I most identify with. Getting on in years, single but in love with someone that doesn’t love them, being the one people talk to, a bit socially awkward, and the person everyone calls ‘nice’, Guy and I have so much in common and Keating brings all that to the stage perfectly. He is helped in this by Lee Newby’s set design which is not only realistic but is pure Guy.
My Night With Reg is not a feel-good play in any respect, but there is a lot of humour in what could be a pretty depressing script of a dark time. It is the story of the vulnerability of people trapped by their own personalities forced to assess their loves, lives, and desires, and thanks to the strength of this production, it feels as relevant today as it did when first performed in 1994.
Review by Terry Eastham
This modern classic, which captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself, won both the 1995 Olivier and Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, after its premiere at the Royal Court and subsequent transfer to the West End.
Set in Guy’s London flat, old friends and new gather to party through the night. This is the summer of 1985 and, for Guy and his circle, the world is about to change forever, thanks to the mounting AIDS crisis.
Stephen K Amos (Benny), James Bradwell (Eric), Edward M Corrie (John), Paul Keating (Guy), Gerard McCarthy (Daniel) and Alan Turkington (Bernie), will star in Kevin Elyot’s award-winning, and much loved dark comedy, My Night With Reg.
Paul Taylor-Mills & The Turbine Theatre present
MY NIGHT WITH REG
The Turbine Theatre
21 July – 21 August 2021
By Kevin Elyot
Directed by Matt Ryan
Designs by Lee Newby