“I sometimes think I’d rather be fancied than liked”
The Donmar Warehouse’s production of My Night With Reg opened last year under a cloud of some sadness as playwright Kevin Elyot passed away just as rehearsals were starting. As it transfers to the West End into the Apollo Theatre, it finds itself surrounded by a different kind of cloud, one of prurient controversy as TfL banned the publicity image for the show (two variations of which I have kindly provided for you here) forcing them to reissue a picture sans arsecheek. (That this Bulk Powders advert somehow passed muster seems baffling – I’d love to know the full reasoning behind both decisions.)
That it provided a sneaky bit of extra guerilla advertising can’t have hurt, as when a similar thing happened to the Globe’s recent production of ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, and it is a play that thoroughly deserves it. I ranked it in my top 25 of last year (out of over 380 shows) and my original review can be read here. And thanks to the lovely people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend another Night With Reg and get my heart gently but surely broken all over again.
Seeing it for a second time brings its own special pleasures. The seeds that are subtly hidden in plain sight to bear the fruit of later plotlines become apparent, increasing the tragic weight of the story, as does the advance knowledge of the timeline. The arc of Jonathan Broadbent’s Guy develops a particularly deep resonance as his flat forms the location for the show’s three acts – the backdrop for friends old and new working their way through what life has to throw at them.
And what remains so powerful about the play is how Robert Hastie’s production teases out the universality of its themes. It may be a gay 80s play, with all the baggage that comes with that, but its really about the fears we all have no matter who we sleep with. The fear that the right person to love might never come along, the worries about keeping a long-term relationship intact and enticing, the scariness of not really knowing what to do with your life.
The original cast remain blissfully perfect in their roles – Geoffrey Streatfeild’s increasingly haunted Daniel is almost unbearably moving as grief takes over, Julian Ovenden’s ennui so skilfully essayed under his hedonistic exterior, Richard Cant and an excellent Matt Bardock so vivid even as they appear so (relatively) briefly), and Lewis Reeves – he who had to turn the other (bum) cheek – an eloquent, understated beacon of hope for the future. Hugely recommended.