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Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Reeves’

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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I have a suspicion we benefitted from waiting until half-way through the run of this. There is extraordinary chemistry between the actors which can only have come from having performed it around 60 times; they are completely believable in their characters and their relationships.

Jonathan Lewis’ play is set in a military hospital in 1984. We’ve yet to send ‘our boys’ to The Gulf, but we have sent them to The Falklands and ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland are ongoing. The six patients have a range of injuries and illnesses, most but not all obtained in combat. The banter at first hides the true pain and emotional turmoil. The introduction of a ‘potential officer’ adds a frisson. In the second half it gets darker as one dies, three are discharged and one returns.

It’s a fine set of performances by six young actors with not a lot of stage experience between them. I was particularly impressed by Lewis Reeves who has to make the biggest transformation, Cian Barry whose role is an emotional roller-coaster and Matthew Lewis who is the butt of many of the jokes. The spin on the Russian roulette sequence from The Deer Hunter didn’t seem like acting at all. David Grindley, who did such a good job with Journey’s End, seems to have an affinity with military subject matter and his staging, on Jonathan Fensom’s hyper-realistic set, is very good indeed.

The black humour (and it is very funny) lulls you into a false sense of security so when it turns you’re really feeling for ‘our boys’. The length of time they seem to spend in hospital seem a bit implausible, but maybe that’s what it was like 28 years ago. It’s better play than I remember the original Donmar production in 1993 being and though I was somewhat sceptical that a West End revival was wise, I will eat my words, It’s good to have stuff like this bringing in Harry Potter and Dr Who fans (though they were a bit irritating in the talking and sweet rustling department at times on Friday evening!).

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