My Night With Reg (NHB Modern Plays)

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My Night With Reg (NHB Modern Plays)

My Night With Reg (NHB Modern Plays)

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A veritable who’s who of British acting talent. Forthcoming Closer co-stars Rufus Sewell, Rachel Redford and Oliver Chris were taking a night off rehearsals alongside comedy favourites Miranda Hart and Sarah Hadland, stage regulars Clive Rowe and Nina Sosanya, former Corrie star Charlie Condou and Wolf Hall’s Jessica Raine. In a nutshell? Time progresses and there is another gathering in Guy’s flat. This time it is not so cheerful as Guy, Daniel, and John, together with long term partners Bernie (Alan Turkington) and Benny (Stephen K Amos) are together following a funeral, one of many the boys have attended. The mood is sombre, and everyone seems to have a secret to share with Guy, who just wants everyone to be fed, watered and get along. Geoffrey Streatfeild brings camp-free flamboyance to Daniel, the life and soul of the party whose world implodes, while Downton Abbey’s Julian Ovenden exposes the frailty and longing at the heart of easy-life-living John.

I love doing everything, I don’t tend to say no that much because I think everything’s a great challenge! I want to be as versatile as possible. My ideal dream is to be that guy that someone goes ‘Who’s that guy? Oh yeah, he was in that thing.’ No one ever really knows his name, but he’s known for loads of different things. That’s my dream.

Me and Jonny Broadbent also had the great honour and privilege to do a reading at his funeral after that. We did a small section of the play at the Actors’ Church, which was mental because that was even before rehearsals. It was only then and hearing the eulogies and all the people who had been associated with the play or with Kevin that I saw this huge community and how important [My Night With Reg] was to them. I had this great sense of pride to be involved in it and I kept the memory of that alive, but also tried to tell the truth of the story so I didn’t get too precious with it. But I held what everyone said, all their words, close to my heart. It was very moving and lovely. I don’t really know. I think we have our own little world, I suppose, and like anyone and in any situation you have to be respectful of what you say but there’s certainly a lot of banter around and everyone thoroughly enjoyed getting into our characters, so it might be different if there were other people in the play, but I don’t think so. I think it all depends on the work that you’re doing. If I was doing a tragedy, it would probably be slightly downbeat. I’ll have to let you know when I start working with women! This modern classic, which captures the fragility of friendship, happiness and life itself, won both the 1995 Olivier and Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, after its premiere at the Royal Court and subsequent transfer to the West End. It made me realise how important the play was. I met Kevin just the once in the audition room and he terrified me! I was very scared of him. He hardly said anything.

Even if the chat is less philosophical than in Rohmer's movie, Elyot's characters reveal a similar capacity for deception and self-deception. No relationship, it turns out, has been safe from the randy Reg. But Elyot's great gift is for depicting, in a way applicable to people of all sexual persuasions, the wounds and hurts of love. One scene, where the tongue-tied Guy fails to declare his passion for John, echoes a similar passage in The Cherry Orchard. And the play's most tragic figure is John, a once-golden youth, who drifts through life in a cloud of irresponsibility. A storm is brewing, and it threatens to spoil Guy’s plans to gather outside. This foul weather lingers, an oncoming storm, a note of pathetic fallacy for what is to come. It forces the group indoors, into close proximity, and the set never deviates from Guy’s living room, creating a sense of claustrophobia. Something dark and inevitable is coming, Both of your two West End productions to date have been with all-male casts. I presume that hasn’t been a deliberate move?! Also like Invincible, Muswell Hill – as its title makes even more obvious – centres on middle-class Londoners, asks questions about creativity and assessing talent (here, it’s a would-be novelist rather than a would-be painter) and employs an excruciating dinner party as a jumping-off point.The play opens with the delightful Eric (Francis Quinn), our resident Brummie interior decorator, listening to The Police on his headphones and singing to himself, blissfully unaware of the tension in the room. Guy (Joe Palmer) is preparing to host a small gathering in his flat, when his old friend, and the man he has pined for since university, John (Oliver Jones) arrives. It’s hard to understand how anyone could classify sensible and pretty Laura Jane Matthewson (played Rose) as a dog, but some of my own worst high school insecurities came screaming to the surface as I watched her plight. Whatever the Marines’ wartime heroics or sacrifices, it doesn’t excuse such callousness in my book. But Jamie Muscato’s Eddie is redeemed.

In The Lion, Benjamin performs 15 songs on six guitars to tell a 30-year story in 70 minutes. It’s his story, about his troubled relationship with his late father, who gave him his love for music, in the form of a cookie-tin banjo. What a remarkable testament to family and fortitude, with heart-achingly beautiful music and guitar-playing fireworks. And the St James’ downstairs cabaret space is the perfect venue for it. An absolute must-see! Meatiest of them all is Julian Ovenden as John, the charismatic enigma of the group, a hyperconfident and fantastically wealthy former rugby player who appears to lives his life unattached and carefree. Ovenden's suave, energetic performance is the engine of the production. But its beating heart is Jonathan Broadbent as John’s old uni chum Guy. Fastidious, nerdy, shit-scared of Aids and a great cook, he’s been in love with John for 20 years, dying inside a little every time his friend shags somebody else. Which he does, a lot. My Night With Reg, the Olivier and Evening Standard award-winning bittersweet comedy about a group of gay men coming to terms with AIDS written by ‘Birmingham boy’, the late Kevin Elyot, makes a long-awaited appearance at The Crescent. What gives this production a special twist, is that it is directed by Rod Natkiel who was a friend of Kevin Elyot, a fellow drama student and who acted with him.The second half moves away from this reductionist approach and allows us to get a better sense of what’s not being said, by focusing more on silences and looks shared between the characters as they come to terms with Reg’s death and the uncomfortable conversations it prompts. The transition from the night of Reg’s funeral to the aftermath of Guy’s death is executed well, catching us by surprise to gently remind us of the debilitating AIDS crisis and its profound, almost inconspicuous impact on those who watched their loved ones pass away one by one. The light design is exceedingly minimal and unfocused, sometimes drawing our attention away from the characters onto the set. The set design by Lee Newby, whilst visually stunning, is used sparingly and only offers us an insight into the kind of life that Guy wanted to share with a partner but was never able to. He went on to write some wonderful plays. Mouth to Mouth, which he did at the Royal Court, had that same theme of yearning. Forty Winks starred Carey Mulligan in 2004. He is remembered for My Night With Reg mostly because it was his breakthrough play. It was such a surprise to everybody – this relatively unknown playwright bursting on to the scene.

It is an award-winning comedy and, demonstrating Elyot’s supreme craftsmanship in telling a deeply serious, disturbing and sad story whilst also making the audience laugh, this is also an engrossing play of constant discoveries as the plot twists and turns. Elyot sets out to wrong-foot and surprise the audience at several moments in the play, and succeeds brilliantly in doing so. And then there’s Eric, the naïve Brummie 18-year-old who’s just moved down to London and, whilst coping with sorting out his own sexuality, finds this group’s lifestyle bewildering and their promiscuity upsetting.Co-artistic director Dan Jarvis says: “This is the first time we’ve toured to mid-scale theatres, which is really exciting for us and part of our ethos as a theatre company. We want to be nationally-recognised for creating LGBT theatre and for taking our work across the regions so that we make sure the best gay theatre isn’t always in London. All three scenes are set in the sitting room of Guy's London apartment: during Guy's flatwarming party (Scene 1); after Reg's funeral, some years later (Scene 2); and after Guy's funeral (Scene 3). The fresh production of Kevin Elyot’s modern classic, from Manchester-based Green Carnation Company, will tour to selected venues across the North and Midlands this Spring, opening at the Lowry at Salford from January 23-25. Then, somehow, we were both out in the world as actors. It was pretty thrilling to be cast together in Doug Lucie’s play Progress, at the Bush theatre in London. That was a cool job for both of us. Kevin was a very good actor. Confident, charismatic and he always had that wit. In 1982, something startling happened: Kevin’s first play, Coming Clean, was produced at the Bush, and it was a success. I don’t remember any announcements about a change of career. Quietly, he had become a writer. He was really good – he had a distinctive voice. First staged in 1994 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, towards the end of the Aids pandemic, My Night With Reg would have been a raw and emotional watch for many who were still living through that time. Twenty-five years on and the world is thankfully in a much different place, where the word ‘Aids’ is no longer deadly and even HIV is potentially on the brink of being curable.

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