So, we’ve been doing the Marie Kondo thing. Bootloads of stuff deemed insufficiently joyous has been dispatched to that grim orphanage of Sydney’s consumption-driven soul – Reverse Garbage.
During a sort out, I came across a box of memorabilia from a trip to London in the mid-1990s. Among the ticket stubs and receipts was one for the West End production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg.
I don’t recall much about it to be honest. That John Sessions was in the cast is about all I remember. But it made an impression on me in a wider sense. It was the first overtly gay play I had encountered.
I haven’t seen it since. The last Sydney production of the play was in 1998.
Though it’s set in the time it was written, Reg playfully harks back to the drawing room comedies of the 1920s and 30s. The setting is a London flat, home to Guy, a gay, perennially unattached copywriter. The first scene is a housewarming party to which Guy (played here by John-Paul Santucci) has invited some old university chums: the dashing John (James Gordon) and the swishy art dealer Daniel (Steven Lyubovic).
As the whisky flows, we learn that Guy has been nursing a crush on John for years and that John has been seeing Reg, Daniel’s lover. We never actually meet Reg – who seems to have bedded everyone but Guy – but he looms large in the two subsequent scenes, each taking place after a funeral.
The first 10 minutes or so of this Alice Livingstone-directed production don’t seem promising. The acting is mannered and everything about the characters seems a couple of sizes too big, as though they’re being sent up.
But by the second scene, the sadness and fear lurking beneath the flippancy becomes more apparent and Elyot’s writing exerts its grip. Reg is a comedy of manners haunted by fear of loneliness, illness and death.
While the performances never quite ground themselves, Santucci and Ljubovic are effective in their roles and Gordon, who is very well cast as a golden boy tarnished by time and ennui, becomes more compelling.
Nick Curnow (also the production’s accent coach) and Steve Corner make a notable contribution as Bernie and Benny, an unhappy long-term couple. Michael Brindley brings youth and guilelessness to the stage as Eric, a provincial kid who works as a busboy at the local gay pub.
Played straight through in 100 minutes, this is a solidly made, stylishly designed (a Tom Bannerman set, lit by Mehran Mortezaei) production. For anyone under 30, My Night with Reg will probably seem quaint. It’s certainly a long way from the cutting edge of queer theatre. But it is undeniably affecting as a portrait of its times and of a particular gay milieu, and as a reminder of the heartache that many in the community still feel now.