Kevin Elyot wrote his pre-Aids debut play, almost a tragi-comedy, Coming Clean whilst he was acting at the Bush Theatre where it was first performed in 1982, winning the Samuel Beckett Award for a ‘writer showing particular promise’.
It is set in a flat in Kentish Town: “sparse: it has the potential of being tasteful, but lacks the necessary care”. Tony, 33, and New Yorker Greg, 38, are in a committed relationship with room for a little sex on the side whenever it takes their fancy. Their only rule is ‘never sleep with the same bloke twice’. When the play starts they are celebrating five years together.
Tony, a writer who seems to write very little, also dislikes cleaning, so employs an out of work actor, Robert, paid for of course by Greg, also a writer, but rather more successful.
The play is at its best when it is being funny, which is often, aided by the superb portrayal of William, the next door neighbour, by Elliott Hadley. His fully rounded portrayal lifts the play every time he appears, as his acting has the energy to drive the play forward, and his body language and facial expressions are spot on – we know exactly what he is thinking and even what he is about to do, such as when he trashes Tony’s flat the moment before the new cleaner is about to be interviewed. His dialogue has been thoroughly examined so that he gets every single nuance possible – whether comic or tragic. This is a terrific performance, and almost convinces one that the play is not as dated as occasionally it appears.
The more serious and poignant scenes at times do not work as well. Lee Knight (Tony) is very believable as is Stanton Plummer-Cambridge (Greg) but the writing is occasionally embarrassing after 38 years distance. Jonah Rzeskiewicz understates his role beautifully as Robert, but we do know from the moment we see him what will eventually happen…
The director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, manages very effectively on the whole to paper over the cracks in this ‘student’ work and ensures that each of the seven scenes has a different overall mood and gradually builds to the climax the playwright intended.
The set has been cleverly designed by Amanda Mascarenhas to look exactly as Elyot describes, and has been imaginatively lit by Nic Farman so that mood is quickly created for each scene. The play calls for the frequent playing of LP records which can appear false when the audience is only a metre from the record player, but Yvonne Gilbert (sound designer) deserves credit for ensuring that when a record of a Mozart Violin Concerto is being played, the sleeve and record itself are actually of that piece of music: many productions would not bother!
This play may be a tad dated, but I found it involving throughout, even if the denouement is rather obvious and its two hour length just right. If for no other reason it is worth seeing for the superb portrayal of William by Elliot Hadley.
There is a LOT of cigarette smoking in this small venue during the course of the play.
Review by John Groves
Following a critically acclaimed season at London’s King’s Head Theatre, the Producers behind the Olivier nominated La Bohème transfer the smash-hit, sell-out play by Kevin Elyot, writer of the landmark drama My Night With Reg, to Trafalgar Studios 2 this January.
Tony and Greg seem to have love all figured out. They’re in a committed relationship but with room for a little more fun on the side whenever it takes their fancy. The only rule? Never sleep with the same man twice. When drop-dead gorgeous Robert walks into their lives, the fragile foundations of their sexual contract are thrown into jeopardy.
Lee Knight as Tony.
Elliot Hadley as role of William / Jurgen.
Stanton Plummer-Cambridge as Greg.
Jonah Rzeskiewicz as Robert.
8 January – 1 February 2020
Trafalgar Studios 2
London, SW1A 2DY