The West End transfer of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean intimately explores the collapse of a gay couple’s seemingly perfect relationship of five years. Set in a clustered flat in Kentish Town in 1982, director Adam Spreadbury-Maher invites a powerfully personal insight into the life of Tony (Lee Knight) and Greg (Stanton Plummer-Cambridge).
Committed and in love, the couple are both open to one-night stands as long as these don’t become too much of an impingement on their relationship. And yet throughout the course of the play it is apparent that Tony longs for something deeper, something monogamous.
This tension manifests itself with the arrival of new cleaner Robert (Tom Lambert) a picturesque young Apollo whose increasing closeness to the couple is set to ruffle a few feathers and importunes a re-writing of the rules of the relationship.
Tony and Greg’s conflicting attitudes towards love are accompanied by an ominous and subtle tension lurking throughout the play. Its shadow is cast on issues of financial power within the couple and the drought of sexual and emotional support which accelerates its fragmentation.
The intimacy with which we are allowed to view character relationships unfold is developed through audience proximity to the action, emphasised by the overall cramped nature of Trafalgar Studios 2. This is taken a step further as the smoke of the actor’s cigarettes envelops the entire audience, physically blurring the line between performance and truth.
We are instantly drawn in by the infectious comradery between Tony and his best friend William (Elliot Hadley). Fuelled by a catchy repartee their energy breathed life onto the stage. Knight in particular held audiences fixed with the ease at which he could convincingly oscillate between moments of raw comedy and powerful emotion.
The fluctuating emotions within Coming Clean were also effectively culminated within Hadley’s performance. By balancing out prevailing sexual and the violent tensions in his characterisation, he allowed a glimpse into the darker themes of the play, camouflaging them under layers of immature quips. It seemed fitting therefore that he should also play the entertaining role of German masochist Jurgen, clad in a tight fitting police uniform.
Obvious farcical moments are subtly interwoven with ‘hints of glints’ that pierce through the sections of tense silence. These inklings of suspense were masterfully built up with a cinematic soundtrack, alternating between the songs of the era and the characters mutual love for classical music.
The combination of all these features allow for a powerful climax, one which no matter how many times is seen will have audiences squirming with eyes half closed or gasping in sympathy.
Unfortunately characterisation was not strong everywhere. It was not until the second half that Lambert became recognisably human. It is unclear whether his stiffness portended the enigmatic nature of the characters intentions or a lacking in delivery.
It is also often the case that Plummer-Cambridge and Lambert were overshadowed by Knight, giving their performances an incomplete and hollowed appearance. It is therefore fitting that the final scene of this tragi-comedy is one of humour, playing to the strengths of Knight and Hadley’s chemistry on stage.
Highly recommended for a night of theatrical emersion, where the emphasis on keeping intentions hidden through tension is wittily lodged at the heart of a play about coming clean.