In this age of “you can’t say that”, where writers and performers are both censored and censured lest they cause offence, staging a revival of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, a comedy about AIDS, might seem a strange choice, especially in the midst of another pandemic which has already claimed the lives of 4 million people worldwide.
Except, of course, My Night With Reg, is not really a comedy about AIDS; rather, it’s a character-driven piece about love, death and relationships and this production delivers laugh-out-loud moments punctuated by pathos and poignancy which cannot fail to stir the emotions of even the hardest of hearts.
The ensemble cast resists the temptation to play for laughs, allowing Kevin Elyot’s script to do the heavy comic lifting, focusing instead on pitch-perfect characterisation: costume design and slick direction give us an immediate sense not just of time and place but of what makes each of the characters tick.
The eponymous Reg does not appear but he has a connection to each of the characters. Much of the comedy is rooted in farce – not the type of farce where French maids hide in the wardrobe – but the principle is the same: we, the audience, know what each character is concealing while they remain blissfully unaware of each other’s secrets.
Ensemble pieces can fall into the trap of delivering one dimensional characters: the shy one, the bitchy one, the angry one and so on. Yes, everyone has over-riding character traits – think Dad’s Army or Friends – but we all have our contradictions and complexities. It’s easier to bring these nuances of character to the fore in a long-running television series, but – with a fraction of the time available – a far more difficult trick to pull off on the stage. It is a tribute to the bravura performances of the cast that we feel we know each and every one of them within moments of their introduction.
It is invidious to have to single out one actor among such a perfectly-balanced and accomplished ensemble but, given that all the action is set in Guy’s flat, Paul Keating as Guy is worthy of a special mention. I genuinely felt I could see into his soul and it was his performance above all others that dialled my personal empathy meter up to eleven. Bravo.
My Night with Reg is on at The Turbine Theatre, Battersea, until 23rd August. More information here.
Watch Rob Harkavy’s interview with the Turbine Theatre’s Paul Taylor Mills here.