Phil feared that – like himself – My Night With Reg might not have worn too well.
He saw it at the Royal Court Upstairs when it opened twenty years ago and was something of a success, moving to the West End, winning both the Standard and Olivier best comedy awards and was subsequently turned into a TV film.
You can’t help but wonder if Kevin Elyot wanted to write a gay Abigail’s Party of sorts. It’s a tragi-comedy of manners and morals set partially at an intimate party complete with bowls of nibbles, copious drinking and smoking, an awkwardly uncomfortable character, sexual frustration, a chokingly funny fumbled seduction and all wrapped up in a (now) distinctly period setting (mid to late eighties) with glimpses of vinyl LPs and their sounds, plus like Abigail, we never get to see its titular character.
Reg was the good time had by (almost) all; popular among a circle of gay men who we meet at 3 different gatherings in the flat belonging to Guy (Jonathan Broadbent), a timidly lonely facilitator and confidant for the group.
Best not to say too much about the plot except to say that the shadow of AIDS hangs over them all, yet it is never mentioned by name. If all this sounds gloomy it isn’t. It’s witty, playful and frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious, never bores and ultimately fiddles with the tear ducts.
The cast are uniformly splendid, impossible to single anyone out from the aforementioned Broadbent, Matt Bardock, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Lewis Reeves, Julian Ovenden and Richard Cant, except to mention that the latter is the son of Play School‘s Brian Cant and that his character is joyously boring. Oh, and we get to see Reeves and Ovenden fully-frontally disrobed, displaying bodies which can only be described as “worked on”. This led the elderly lady next to Phil to lean forward and point it out to her husband. Perhaps she hadn’t seen such a sight for years and presumably though he hadn’t noticed. Or chose not to.
Director Robert Hastie has made a fine and evocative fist of things. It doesn’t feel like the period piece that Phil feared it might. Plus it runs straight through without interval for a gloriously watchable 1 hour and 55 minutes.
Phil took a straight, male friend – who doesn’t really do theatre – along as a litmus test. He thoroughly enjoyed it declaring himself “Not bored for a moment”, but as a vinyl (LPs that is) afficionado took the appropriately Whingerish stance by wondering why the set’s record player didn’t have any speakers.
Tragically Elyot died, aged only 62, barely two months ago, which must have been around the time this revival was going into rehearsal. It’s an added sadness he’s not around to enjoy its success all over again.