THEATRE / Missing, presumed promiscuous

IN THE DAYS before it became an official issue, stage homosexuality was a reliable source of comedy. There was plenty to object to in its limp-wristed stereotypes, but even they had a wit and lightness of touch seldom to be found elsewhere. Homosexuality was a forcing-house of irony; the traditional weapon of the weak against the strong. Then came the Gay Pride movement, followed by Aids, and homosexual drama went serious: rather like Yiddish comedy evaporating in the deserts of Israel.

One reason for welcoming Kevin Elyot's award-winning My Night With Reg is that it succeeds - if I may venture a limp-wristed term - in having it both ways. This is a sad, bleak piece about unrequited affection, the transitoriness of youth, and the ever-present threat of death. At the same time, it bubbles over with camp merriment, beautifully plotted absurdities, and verbal acrobatics. It has been claimed in the piece's defence that it could translate into heterosexual terms. I disagree. What illuminates it most is an emotional candour and volatility that belongs to a world of outsiders who are making up the rules as they go along.

The title character, who never appears and whose death is reported after the first scene, is an erotically irresistible presence who wreaks havoc on the relationships of the characters who do appear. These revolve around the wan figure of Guy - pushing 40 and still looking for love - who keeps open house to a group of sexually hyperactive friends. Marvellously played by David Bamber, Guy begins as a standard example of the old-style maiden gentleman: a skilled cook and fussy householder who even has a decorative cover for his draught excluder. He is clearly put out when his first visitor, John, wants to smoke, even though he has been carrying a torch for this former student chum during the nine years since they last met. They are joined by the boisterous Dan (John Sessions) who turns the meeting into a party, with toasts to ''Gross indecency'' - not realising that Reg, his lover, has just spent the night with John. At this point, we seem all set for a jolly comedy of intrigue.

That it develops into much more is largely thanks to Elyot's handling of stage time. In Roger Michell's production, the scenes are punctuated with brief blackouts and played without an interval. This leads you to expect continuity of action; it comes as a shock to realise that every scene break represents the passage of a significant length of time during which something decidedly unfunny has happened. Each fatality is referred to obliquely, as though we already know about it. The party reassembles in sombre mood - it is some time before we realise that they are returning from Reg's funeral. Their main question is how to break the news to the grieving Dan that his dead lover had interests elsewhere. ''Even the vicar at the crematorium,'' someone finally blurts out, ''said he was a good fuck''. That transgresses all the rules of good taste and consideration; but it blows the roof off the theatre as only a truthful comic line can.

The other effect of the scene-breaks is to telescope the characters' transition into middle age. The actual duration of events is not specified, but the psychological clock is ticking away like a time-bomb. Guy, apparently the central figure, is struck down without warning before the last scene, leaving his flat to the beloved John. Your mind goes back to the first sight of John (Anthony Calf) as a forelock-tossing golden boy, and compares that with the hunched figure in an overcoat vainly trying to make it with the friendly but pitying Eric (Joe Duttine) who really is young.

In the present epidemic of regional theatre closures (Salisbury Playhouse, Farnham Redgrave et al), I learn that Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre - in spite of having transferred four shows to the West End in the past year - will close unless new funds are found before next May.

The Redgrave, meanwhile, is proclaiming its defiant vitality with Roland Jaquarello's production of George Dandin, the bleakest of all Moliere's comedies. George, a rich yeoman, has married into the nobility, only to be treated like dirt by his in-laws and cheated by his wife. He spends much of the time moaning to the audience, and it is easy to imagine an alternative play from the viewpoint of young Angelique, who was not consulted over the marriage. But, really, there is nobody to sympathise with. Jaquarello's production works because - beyond its farcical invention - it seizes the two big opportunities of leaving farce behind. First it allows Angelique

(Camilla Vella) to offer George a new deal as if she really means it; then it impels George (Nick Lucas) over the edge into a world of Strindbergian frenzy. ''Grant me the blessing of letting others see how dishonoured I am!''. There is a kamikaze prayer, a warning to all dissatisfied partners.

Not that it would be of any help to the partners in Harold Pinter's Landscape who have become so inured to living parallel lives that they speak in monologues, hardly acknowledging the other's presence. In the original RSC production (l969) their separation was symbolised by a jagged split in the stage floor which converted the kitchen set into two separate islands. In Pinter's revival, the kitchen (designed by Eileen Diss) has become a monochrome unit, and the relationship has altered accordingly. What we see now is a man (Ian Holm) trying with increasing desparation to get through to a woman (Penelope Wilton) who is too lost in her reveries to notice him. The acting is superlative. In general terms what it offers is a dialogue between romantic memory and present triviality. Both are driven equally by passion, and expressed through minutely considered patterns of recurring detail - such as Wilton's instantly suppressed smile whenever she mentions children, or Holm's shamefaced retreats into solitude every time she ignores him. The bond between them is almost visible; and a life-time's regret is packed into the play's 35 minutes.

Out of the Blue is a melodramatically plotted Anglo-Japanese musical tracing the aftermath of a wartime marriage 25 years after the bombing of Nagasaki. There are some powerful voices (Michael McCarthy, Meredith Braun) in David Gilmore's production. Paul Sand's libretto sacrifices sense to prolonged rhyming; Shun-Ichi Tokura's score functions more as atmospheric lighting than as music with any independent dramatic purpose. With such an anatomy there is small advantage in having the heart in the right place.

- 'My Night With Reg': Criterion, 071-839 4488. 'George Dandin': Redgrave, Farnham, 0252 715301. 'Landscape': Cottesloe, 071-928 2252. 'Out of the Blue': Shaftesbury, 071-379 5399.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice