Review: Coming Clean, King’s Head’s Queer Season

“We’ve shared each other round half the gay scene in London”

Between the news of its forthcoming move and expansion and the opening of a major nine week Queer Festival, there’s quite the buzz around the King’s Head at the moment, so I was keen to get stuck into the latter with a double bill of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean and a new play called Funeral Meats by Cradeaux Alexander.

The late Elyot is having a bit of a moment in London theatre. His final play – Twilight Song – is receiving a belated premiere at the Park Theatre and this production of Coming Clean marks the first major London revival for his first play, since it opened at the Bush in 1982. Thus the opportunity is there, should you wish to take it, to track the evolution of his writing, long dominated by his most famous play My Night With Reg. Continue reading “Review: Coming Clean, King’s Head’s Queer Season”

Review: Twilight Song, Park

 “It’s hard isn’t it”

Completed shortly before his death in 2014, Kevin Elyot’s Twilight Song now belatedly receives its premiere courtesy of the Park Theatre. The play doesn’t emerge as one of his strongest though, the shadow of the excellent My Night With Reg lingers long over the scant 75 minutes here and you’re left wondering just how completed the play was – would it have benefitted from another turn or two in the development mangle after its initial run.

Twilight Song finds itself split between the present day and the 1960s, looking at the relationship between homosexualist Barry, his mother Isabella and his wider family. From his boyhood when decriminalisation was just around the corner but still too late for a closeted uncle, to his present day where sexual liberation hasn’t prevented him from frustrated singledom, we see how individual happiness doesn’t necessarily follow societal change no matter your sexuality or generation. Continue reading “Review: Twilight Song, Park”

Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo

“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. Continue reading “Re-review: My Night With Reg, Apollo”

Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse

“If you get him pissed enough, he might let you blow him off behind the yucca”

There’s a definite tinge of sadness about Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg even before the play starts as the playwright died this summer aged 62, just as rehearsals for this Donmar Warehouse production – the play’s first major revival – were to start. It is also a deeply melancholy piece of work, elegantly capturing the yearning ache of unrequited love, the pain of remembering those who’ve been loved and lost, and the vast complexity that can arise from simply wanting to be loved.

The play could be pigeon-holed as a gay play, an AIDS play, an 80s period piece, but the beauty of Robert Hastie’s production is that it transcends all these labels, elevating Elyot’s writing to a minor-key classic. That the play focuses on a group of gay friends throughout the 80s living under the (never-mentioned) shadow of HIV/AIDS is never in doubt but the main theme, the driving force behind so much of what – the fear of ending up alone – is utterly, completely universal. Continue reading “Review: My Night With Reg, Donmar Warehouse”

DVD Review: Clapham Junction

“The whole gay thing, is it still an issue any more?”

Part of Channel 4’s 2007 gay season, Clapham Junction was written by Kevin Elyot showing the lives of a number of separate but interconnected gay men over 36 hours in the Clapham area of London. So we have civil partnership ceremonies with the groom shagging one of the waiters at the party afterwards, dinner party guests meeting inopportunely at the local cottage before a ghastly middle class gathering, a teenage stalker finally meeting the handsome neighbour unaware of his troubled past, and guys prowling round the common for anonymous sex, little aware that a violent psychotic is amongst them.

Phoebe Nicholls’ delightfully overbearing mother with her monstrous prejudices, Samantha Bond’s blithely unaware party guest, Luke Treadaway’s sweatily intense teenager Theo desperate to offer himself up to Joseph Mawle’s lithe mystery man, Rupert Graves’ confident out television maker toying with James Wilby’s closet case (a neat nod back to Maurice), there are undoubtedly performances aplenty to be savoured in here. But the construction of the whole film is just generally too weak, Elyot’s writing uninventive and heavy-handed in the message it thumps home. Continue reading “DVD Review: Clapham Junction”

DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind

“As far as I know, Lenin said nothing about buggery”

I was told that I simply must watch Christopher and his kind after really enjoying I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, as it covered similar ground in recounting novelist Christopher Isherwood’s residency in Berlin in the early 1930s as his search for boy-fuelled hedonism comes up hard against the ugly rise of National Socialism. The film’s timespan and geographical scope also extends well beyond that of the play to create a neat companion piece which is also notable for featuring current Doctor Who Matt Smith in the sexually adventurous lead role.

It is pleasingly frank in its depiction of the gay sexuality that was missing from the play: Isherwood’s first stop upon arriving in Berlin is to be squired to the Cosy Corner, an underground gay bar of sorts, by Pip Carter’s wonderfully glacial Wystan, or WH Auden as he is better known and few blushes are spared with sex scenes (wouldn’t have imagined he was a top tbh) and deliciously scathing humour. The relationship between Auden and Isherwood is beautifully played by Carter and Smith and I wish we had seen more of it as their encounters are wonderfully scripted – the banter about…size is genius – but I guess that was the whole point about their general reticence of emotional intimacy.   Continue reading “DVD Review: Christopher and His Kind”