The­atre Com­ing Clean

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Michael Billing­ton


Trafal­gar Stu­dios, Lon­don

Un­til 2 Fe­bru­ary

Kevin Elyot will al­ways be re­mem­bered for My Night With Reg. How­ever, Com­ing Clean, first seen at the Bush in 1982 and now trans­ferred to the West End in a King’s Head re­vival, marked his de­but and re­veals his ca­pac­ity to ex­plore dif­fer­ent as­pects of gay cul­ture while ex­ploit­ing the stan­dard tropes of do­mes­tic drama. The fit is noth­ing like as per­fect as in his later work but, as this pro­duc­tion re­minds us, the prom­ise is pal­pa­bly there.

It is sig­nif­i­cant that the play first ap­peared in the same year as The Real Thing. Al­though noth­ing like as struc­turally in­ge­nious as Tom Stoppard’s play, it deals with the same sub­ject: the pain of in­fi­delity. Tony, an as­pir­ing writer, and Greg, an Amer­i­can aca­demic, have set­tled into a com­fort­able, quasi-monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ship af­ter co­hab­it­ing for five years. Their lives are dis­rupted when they hire a young cleaner, an out-of-work ac­tor named Robert. His ev­ery move seems to in­fu­ri­ate Greg, whose jokes he tact­lessly caps dur­ing a dis­as­trous din­ner party, while Tony shame­lessly flirts with this Adon­is­like house­boy. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it is Robert who drives a wedge be­tween the long-term lovers.

Elyot fre­quently falls back on the stock de­vices of the tra­di­tional West End play. One of the lovers un­ex­pect­edly re­turns from a week­end away to dis­cover his part­ner in fla­grante. Elyot also in­tro­duces a flam­boy­ant neigh­bour, Wil­liam, whose pur­pose seems to be to pro­vide comic relief – un­til he gets beaten up by a piece of rough trade. But what Elyot cap­tures well is the con­test be­tween emo­tional com­mit­ment and sex­ual free­dom. He sug­gests that Tony and Greg, while en­joy­ing one-night stands, are bound to­gether by cus­tom, shared in­ter­ests and un­spo­ken love: the re­al­i­sa­tion that one of them has been en­gaged in a longterm af­fair poignantly re­veals the mix of hurt, wounded pride and so­cial em­bar­rass­ment prompted by be­trayal.

Adam Spread­bury-Ma­her’s pro­duc­tion rightly pre­serves the play’s pe­riod feel: this is not only a pre-Aids world, but one where a pint of beer costs 90p. Amanda Mas­caren­has’s de­sign also catches the shabby qual­ity of a Ken­tish Town flat dec­o­rated by a faded por­trait of the Queen Mum and with wine stains em­bed­ded in the car­pet. The per­for­mances are mostly good. Lee Knight is out­stand­ing as Tony, show­ing how his be­hav­iour shifts ac­cord­ing to the com­pany he is in: with his lover, Greg, he is all de­voted so­bri­ety, whereas with his out­ra­geous friend, Wil­liam, he ac­quires a ve­neer of head-toss­ing camp. Stanton Plum­mer-Cam­bridge also lends Greg the right worko­ri­en­tated earnest­ness, and it’s more Elyot’s fault than his that it’s hard to credit that the char­ac­ter has en­joyed half the gay men in Lon­don. Tom Lambert, re­sem­bling a young Michael York, pins down the cleaner’s mix of cal­cu­la­tion and sen­su­al­ity, and El­liot Hadley, at one point en­thu­si­as­ti­cally gob­bling a cream eclair, never know­ingly un­der­acts as the next-door disco-queen.

Later plays such as The In­her­i­tance and An­gels in Amer­ica have of­fered a more com­pre­hen­sive view of gay re­la­tion­ships. But Elyot, as far as Bri­tain goes, was a pi­o­neer in the field, and his de­but play shows that, what­ever your ori­en­ta­tion, few things are more dev­as­tat­ing than sex­ual de­cep­tion.

It pre­serves the play’s pe­riod feel: this is not only a preAids world, but one where a pint of beer is 90p

Love tri­an­gle … Stanton Plum­merCam­bridge, Tom Lambert, Lee Knight

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