My Night with Reg: sex, love, death and gay banter
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
David Bowie's "Starman" fills the air and it is simultaneously exhilarating, it is a great song, and heartbreaking as Bowie, and the liberating promise Ziggy Stardust offered, are now just memories. My Night with Reg has the same effect.
Structured as a classic farce - a small group of Brits have all slept with the same person and when they meet at a series of gatherings, revelations and hilarity ensue - playwright Kevin Elyot (Christopher and His Kind) ups the ante by making all the characters unabashedly gay and by setting it in the midst of the AIDS epidemic: sex can equal death.
Elyot captures the way that gay friendships become love relationships become tricks become friends in a never-ending series of mini-scandals and mutual respect. In the centre of the vortex is Jonathan Wilson's Guy, who is always referred to as a "nice guy" but wants nothing more than to be "fancied instead of liked." It is odd to see Wilson in a quiet nebbishy role, he was a whirlwind in The Normal Heart, but he puts his crack comic timing to good use and gets more mileage out of stretched syllable or a double-take than a drag queen in overdrive. Somehow he turns the heart of My Night with Reg, into a compelling still eye of the hurricane.
Jeff Miller (Cock, The Normal Heart) is the hurricane. Dancing, singing and raising toasts "To gross indecency!" and "To sodomy!" he is the life of the party, the gay man who is proud to boast of his sexual prowess and to tease, taunt and titillate. Looking for love by having sex expends a lot of energy. His foil Gray Powell as the dark, handsome and tortured John, is the opposite, forced to be discreet about love, his longing for meaningful sexual contact is only slowly revealed.
The coupled duo, Tim Funnell and Martin Happer (The Normal Heart), create full characters out of contrasting - socially and sexually - gag generators. Funnell is fussy, funny and tragic, while Happer is believably well-hung and the working class sexual myth come to life. Alex Furber (War Horse) is the charming naif who unwittingly ignites several fuses by not knowing the gay code of sexual conduct, and being both young and exceptionally beautiful. He also turns a non-gratuitous nude scene into a thing of delicate grace.
Six gay men bantering courtesy of the words of a clever playwright should sparkle and finally devastate. There are witty, bitchy lines that for some reason fall flat in this production. The pace is stately, serious, and never quite takes off into the escalating comedy it should. The audience was full of gay men of a certain age, many of us who lived through the AIDS epidemic and didn't come through unscathed. The audience response was more rueful laughter, recognition, than boisterous hilarity. Except for a woman a few seats ahead who gasped and guffawed at every joke, perhaps newness to the bittersweet pleasures of high gay bitchy banter is a requisite.
If the comedy fails to achieve giddiness, the heartbreak works impeccably - one could feel the tears being held back as individual audience members suddenly realized the not-so-unexpected twist. In that case the collective PTSD we feel, is massaged and exposed. If the laughs had been more pronounced, the effect would have been devastating. As exciting and novel as it was to be in an audience composed, mainly, of my gloriously gay peers, I can't help but wonder if My Night with Reg would be a more intense experience in the company of an audience less familiar with the milieu and situation.
The universality of the themes, no-one, no matter how much they pretend, believes for a moment that straights of any stripe are immune to affairs and sexual roundelays, insinuate themselves with a soft sigh of identification. Perhaps as the production continues, these are all actors working at the top of their craft, it will become the bracing slap in the face that is comic/tragic genius and the Starman will "boogie" rather than "think he'll blow our mind."