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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Elyot’

Whilst Kevin Elyot’s last play, Twilight Song, has recently been staged at the Park Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/twilight-song), his first, written over 30 years before, has been revived at the King’s Head Theatre. Neither are up to the (small) main body of his theatre work, but both prove interesting pieces in completing the picture of an important late 20th century playwright.

Tony and Greg have been in a relationship for five years, though it’s an open one; both have one night stands. When they employ out-odd-work actor Robert as a cleaner, it tests the relationship. A fourth main character, Tony’s very camp and very promiscuous friend William, seems to be there to bring life and humour to an otherwise rather dull situation.

It’s a first play by someone starting out as a writer and that’s exactly how it feels. The longer first half goes nowhere and the much meatier second half ends abruptly and inconclusively. The promiscuity seems very much in period, but the long-term relationship seems more contemporary. The talk of sex is more frank than you might expect in the theatre at the time it was written.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production, with an excellent design by Amanda Mascarenhas, and the performances of Lee Knight, Jason Nwonga, Tom Lambert and Elliot Hadley, serve the play well, though I found the casting of the same actor as William and Jurgen off-putting – impossible to keep the moustache and change the character, it seems!

I’m glad I caught it, to complete my Elyot ‘collection’, but beyond that it’s a very good production of a flawed first play.

 

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The late Kevin Elyot wasn’t a prolific playwright, partly because he didn’t write his first until he was forty (he started out as an actor) and partly because he played away writing for TV and film too. He produced just five original plays and three adaptations over a thirty year period, but he did write a late 20th century classic, My Night With Reg, recently revived at the Donmar, transferring to the West End. This play was written just before he died in 2014 and is now getting it’s premiere posthumously at the Park Theatre.

We start in the present day. Barry has invited an Estate Agent to value his mother’s north London home while she’s out for the day. The scene ends with the Estate Agent providing another professional service altogether. Back in the sixties we meet Isabella and soon realise she is Barry’s mother and is indeed pregnant with Barry, though she harbours a secret from her husband Basil (who’s dead by the present day). They’re going out for dinner with Uncle Charles and his ‘friend’ Harry, who share another secret. In one of our other sixties scenes, six years apart, the same four are going out to dinner again. Here we meet the gardener, who appears to have been providing services to both Harry and Isabelle.

All this unfolds in 75 minutes, very slowly, often quirky, with some moments seeming Ordtonsesque and some with a touch of Alan Bennett. It really is rather odd, especially with a false ending followed by a puzzling one. The cast do their best with the material, but it isn’t really worthy of their combined talents. Given the quality of his other plays, this seemed unfinished to me and I wondered if he would have approved of its staging as it is. I’m afraid I felt it might have been better left unproduced lest it tarnish his reputation and memory.

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I wish I’d had a blog 20 years ago so that I could compare what I thought about this then with what I think about it now. In the absence of a blog, I have my less reliable memory, which tells me that I thought it was a good, very funny play, though the post-AIDS promiscuity and unprotected sex was a bit shocking. It seemed to me to be a play of its time and I wasn’t sure it would have the same impact today. As it turns out, it passes the test of time and proves to be more great than good. Sadly, writer Kevin Elyot didn’t get to see this first major revival himself, dying days before rehearsals began.

We don’t meet Reg, though the play revolves around him. His partner Daniel is one of three thirty-something university friends who we join at the flat-warming of another, conservative home-maker Guy, virtually celibate with unrequited love for the third, rich boy John, who has been absent squandering his inheritance and sleeping around. They are joined by newer friends from the pub – Bernie & Benny. Decorative decorator young Eric, also from the pub, is just finishing painting the conservatory. As the play progresses, we attend two wakes and learn why everything revolves around Reg, as Eric joins this circle of friends.

American playwrights responded to AIDS with angry, political plays like The Normal Heart and Angels in America. This was British theatre’s first response – a comedy about friendship, love and sex with two deaths! It has some of the sharpest, funniest dialogue you’ll ever hear and it is truly funny – it won both the Olivier and Standard Best Comedy Awards (also a peculiarly British response) – but it has much more depth than that. The characterisations are superb and there isn’t a wasted moment or an unnecessary word; it really is brilliantly written. This was the third of only six original stage plays Elyot wrote (there were also three adaptations) over a period of 22 years. Later ones, like Mouth to Mouth in 2001 and Forty Winks in 2004 were also good plays, but this was his masterpiece.

The Donmar have done him proud with this fine revival. The space is bigger than the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs where it started, but it’s just as intimate. This is director Robert Hastie’s first ‘big’ high profile show and he more than rises to the challenge with impeccable staging. The casting is faultless. I haven’t seen much of Jonathan Broadbent’s work, but he steps into David Bamber’s shoes and makes Guy his own. Geoffrey Streathfield sweeps in and commands the stage as a charismatic Daniel. I think I’ve only seen Julian Ovenden in musicals and he’s a revelation here as complex John, a character who makes the biggest transition. Richard Cant and Matt Bardock are excellent as the unlikely couple Bernie & Benny. Lewis Reeves, in only his second West End role, is a very impressive Eric (originally played by Joe Duttine, now Sally’s boyfriend in Coronation Street!).

This exceeded my exceptions in so many ways and it was wonderful to see it revealed as a modern classic. A clear favourite for 2014’s Best Revival.

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