'My Night with Reg': No 'pink play' stereotypes

The Donmar's revival of Kevin Elyot's 1994 tale of gay friends, 'My Night with Reg', is given added poignancy by being staged only a month after its creator's death. The director, Robert Hastie, talks to John Nathan about its humanity

When Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg opens at the Donmar Warehouse next week it will be a revival that is more than tinged with sadness. Just six weeks ago the playwright died. The show's director Robert Hastie had been in regular contact with Elyot who was giving his full attention to every aspect of the production, from possible (minor) changes to the text, to what Guy (Jonathan Broadbent) should have on the walls of his flat where the play is set.

Although Elyot had been suffering from a long illness, his death at the age of 62 was still a shock. He first became ill not long before My Night with Reg received its world premiere at the Royal Court in 1994, and he once wrote that much of the strength he needed to get well again was drawn from the knowledge that Reg was about to be staged for the first time.

"It was clear that he was still tremendously looking forward to his play being here," says Hastie of the show, which stars Julian Ovenden and is the first London revival since the Royal Court production.

"And in the last conversation I had with him a week before he died, he said he was still very excited." Last conversations are a recurring theme in the play. "Sometimes the poignancy is almost unbearable," says Hastie.

Although written in the early Nineties, Reg is set in the mid-Eighties. Guy's friends are visiting partly out of nostalgia for their university days but also as a kind of emotional refuge from the tyranny of HIV. Most have slept with (the unseen) Reg who, it emerges, had the virus at the time.

Heavenly bodies: Marcus D'Amico and Joseph Mydell in Tony
Kushner's 'Angels in America' at the National Theatre in 1992 Heavenly bodies: Marcus D'Amico and Joseph Mydell in Tony Kushner's 'Angels in America' at the National Theatre in 1992 Hastie and I are sitting on a three-seater pink sofa shot through with gold thread, which will take centre stage in the production. "I'm not sure that it will look like this on opening night," says Hastie of the sofa. I say that it is hard to imagine a more appropriate piece of furniture. And although Hastie laughs generously, something tells me that by equating pink furniture to Elyot's characters, I've deployed a glib trope about gay people – the kind of cliché that probably drove Elyot nuts and which good directors prefer to avoid.

"It has the drawing-room comedy in its DNA," says Hastie focusing on the play's antecedents. "It knows it's coming from Coward, Rattigan, Wilde. But it's also Chekhovian in the sense that almost everything that happens, happens outside of the play."

Hastie could have just easily pointed to a Chekhovian sense of longing and the Chekhovian theme of unrequited love that informs the work. In that sense the gayness of Reg is its least interesting quality.

"The notion of Kevin being a 'gay playwright' instead of just a 'playwright' would have annoyed him," says Hastie. "What is striking about the play is that it isn't about being gay and it is isn't about Aids."

Still, around the time it transferred to the West End, My Night with Reg would have been exactly the kind of play the Evening Standard critic Milton Shulman wanted to see less of when he wrote an article in 1994 with the headline "Stop the Plague of Pink Plays". At that time the word "plague" was the preferred tabloid term for HIV. So to link plays that featured gay men with an epidemic that was killing gay men – implying that both the plays and plague were a comparable scourge – was, at best, crassly insensitive. It would be a little like complaining about Holocaust plays "goose-stepping" into the West End.

For playwright Martin Sherman whose Holocaust play Bent (1979) revealed the particular treatment meted out to gay men by Nazis, even the term "gay play" can grate. "I'm far more upset if a play like Bent is called a gay play than if I'm called a gay playwright," he says speaking from his Holland Park home. "Because I am a gay playwright. But Bent is more than gay. So is My Night with Reg."

These were plays that were written against the background of, as Jonathan Harvey puts it, "Laws that discourage you from being gay." Harvey, whose play Beautiful Thing was one of those attacked by Shulman, acknowledges that there was a campaigning impetus to plays that featured gay people. "I was writing with homophobes in mind as well as homosexuals," he says. In the age of gay marriage and divested of their campaigning impetus, the most compelling reason to revive the best of the "gay plays" of that period is not their gayness, but their humanity.

Yet when you think that in 1966, almost three decades before Shulman's article, the New York Times critic Stanley Kauffmann called for gay life to be "as freely dramatised as [is] heterosexual life", the integration of plays depicting openly gay characters on to the mainstream stage has been less than smooth. Two years after Kauffmann's call – and a year before America's Stonewall riots – Mart Crowley's off-Broadway play The Boys in the Band made the breakthrough. However, Kauffmann appears to have argued from the premise that gay playwrights such as Tennessee Williams had hitherto concealed gay sexuality in their work – a premise with which Tony Kushner disagrees.

"The Glass Menagerie is very close to being an openly gay play," says Kushner, author of Angels in America, which has the subtitle A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. The work is considered to be the greatest contemporary play depicting gay life. As with Reg, HIV is hugely present, albeit within a sprawling, highly political epic, as opposed to the contained one-room set of Elyot's play.

"No one has seen The Glass Menagerie and not had the sense that here is homoeroticism," adds the twice Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Munich and Lincoln. "And of course Streetcar is a play about many things, one of which is that Blanche has married a gay man."

Harvey says that Angels, which he saw at the National not long before Beautiful Thing received its premiere at the Bush in 1993, had a huge impact. "Overnight, I started to think about my own mortality. There is a moment in Angels where two men dance together. It was the most moving thing I'd ever seen in theatre. And I suppose that's what inspired the end of Beautiful Thing when the two lads dance."

The moment Kushner first understood the potential of plays with openly gay characters to affect attitudes happened outside the theatre.

"I was in high school and my father went to see the film of Terrence McNally's play The Ritz. He [Kushner's father] and I struggled a lot about my homosexuality. This was a time when he knew I was gay and really wanted me to make every effort I could to change it – by therapy, by dating women. And I was co-operating. But he came back from the movie and he volunteered to my mother that he had just seen 'a plea for tolerance for homosexuals and it's very moving'. That was stunning."

With lunch break over, rehearsals at the Donmar are about to resume. Carpenters are knocking together the French doors that feature in Elyot's post-drawing-room play. Hastie rises and looks back at the set.

"I think when we open, the sofa will be blue," he says.

'My Night with Reg', Donmar Warehouse, London WC2 (0844 871 7624; donmarwarehouse.com) 31 July to 27 September

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker