Really, Kevin Elyot’s dark comedy ought to be called ‘Several Nights with Six Men Who Aren’t Reg’, for although the titular Reg (real name Renaldo) looms large over the action we never get to meet him. Instead, we settle down in Guy’s (Jonathan Broadbent) new one-bed apartment for his flat-warming. He has gathered his old uni pals to drink brandy and reminisce about the long lost heyday which they’re all still mourning in one way or another.
The night begins nicely enough. John (Julian Ovenden), the object of Guy’s fifteen year unrequited love affair, is the first to arrive and he’s soon joined by Daniel (Geoffrey Streatfeild), who brings a delightfully camp air to proceedings. The double measures flow as freely as the double entendres but between trips to the loo and fag breaks in the conservatory secrets are revealed. Confiding in Guy (who’s a very nice guy), John reveals that he has been seeing Reg, Daniel’s partner, and thinks it’s love. Meanwhile Daniel also turns to Guy, claiming not to be worried about Reg’s several bits on the side but panic-stricken at the notion he’s fallen in love with somebody else.
The next time we visit Guy’s flat we have fast-forwarded a few years and the occasion is far more sombre. At Reg’s wake the crux of the play, the ’80s AIDS crisis, rears its ugly head although in the spirit of the decade’s taboo the word is never actually said. As the extent of Reg’s promiscuity is uncovered so too is the web of anxiety beneath the group’s friendly chatter and dirty jokes. Their standard late-thirties concerns about ageing take a grave turn when they are confronted by their own mortality and old boasts of prowess in the bedroom (or in the car or behind a yucca plant) are hidden away under a blanket of shame and fear.
So much doom and gloom might be unbearable if done by anyone other than Elyot. His impressive script effortlessly mixes very British humour and attitudes with crass innuendo and real tragedy, all the while balancing a sense of brooding consideration with a fast, engaging pace. The cast truly make the most of such a good play and the three main parts are acted faultlessly, a really rare thing. There’s also excellent support from Lewis Reeves as Eric, a naive and muscular painter-decorator swept up into the world of the old queens, and Richard Cant and Matt Bardock as mismatched couple Bernie and Benny.
My Night with Reg is a provocative piece that is both desperately funny and desperately sad. Elyot’s touching, brave and beautiful study of the AIDS crisis’ impact has a more universal reach, too: it’s a sobering revelation of how fragile life and love really are and a life-affirming reminder not to squander either.