My Night with Reg
The Crescent Theatre’s production of ‘My Night with Reg’, Kevin Elyot’s modern tragi-comedy masterpiece, is a powerful and emotionally charged hit. The play, first performed at the Royal Court in 1995, delves into the complex world of ‘gay manners and morals’ in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Set in the 1980s London ‘gay community’ (if such a thing can really be said to exist) the play explores the lives of a group of friends whose relationships are intertwined and tested by a series of deceptions, betrayals, and regrets over several tumultuous years.
Director Rod Natkiel, who knew the late playwright, has brought together a terrific ensemble cast. “It is not a ‘gay play,” he writes in the programme notes. “It is a play about a group of friends who happen to be gay.” Thanks to the brilliance of the writing and the calibre of the performances, he succeeds in making this production completely universal. The play is ultimately about the complex contradictions at the heart of the human animal; here they happen to be gay men but the tensions and difficulties of navigating a world of love, lust, sex, desire, intimacy and friendship are recognisable to us all.
Joe Palmer is perfectly cast as the affable host Guy, whose London flat is the setting for the action throughout. Palmer’s performance combines endearing earnestness with a pained loneliness and repression. The first guest to his 1985 housewarming party is John, an old university drama society friend for whom Guy still carries more than a torch. John, the object of Guy’s idolisation, is both confident and aloof in Oliver Jones’ excellent performance. He combines the bravado of the Marlborough educated rugby player with insecurities about ageing and losing his looks in a promiscuous world in which youth is God.
Francis Quinn delivers perfect comic timing (as seen in a recent Queers monologue at the Crescent) as Eric, a working-class painter and decorator who at the start of the play is touching up Guy’s conservatory. His naturalism and gentleness are in marked contrast to the flamboyance of Peter Neenan’s wonderfully camp Daniel.
Portrayed with energetic flair, Neenan’s nuanced performance moves beyond gay stereotype: he is particularly moving in later scenes when it is clear that his promiscuous lifestyle masks a desire for genuine connection. Tom Lowde and David Baldwin are a darkly hilarious double act as Bernie and Benny, a couple navigating the challenges of committing to a relationship. Lowde’s bus-driving Bernie fizzes with frustration and Baldwin is brilliant as his conservatory-obsessed boring boyfriend.
The word ‘AIDS’ is never mentioned in the script but the epidemic looms large over the lives of these men and we care. Deeply. The titular Reg is a ghost-like presence who we never meet but he haunts the play, the embodiment of love and death. Despite this darkness, it’s a brilliantly funny play. A superb and poignant production of an important play which combines sadness with hilarity.
'My Night with Reg' is playing at the Crescent Theatre from 8th to 15th July 2023.