Coming Clean

Reviewer's Rating

This play was Kevin Elyot’s first on the London stage back in 1982. It demonstrates many of the hallmarks of his mature style – the witty but entirely naturalistic dialogue, the sudden sideslips of time and action, and the acute sensitivity to music as memory. It does not have the immaculate technical control and tight construction of ‘My Night with Reg’, but it is still an exceptionally accomplished  first play that more than merits revival. It is very much a period piece, documenting a time before HIV/AIDs, when no one imagined gay marriage, and beer was still 90p a pint! But none of this really matters because at the centre of it lies a timeless theme – whether relationships can flourish when emotional and physical fidelity are considered separately. On the consequences of shifts in these boundaries Elyot is as salient, poignant and perceptive as ever.

David Shields’s meticulously cluttered period set takes us to a flat in Kentish Town in the 1980s where aspirant writer Tony and established academic Greg are marking their fifth anniversary. They appeared to have squared the circle in maintaining the strength of their mutual commitment while loosening the constraints of monogamy. An alternative model presents itself in the form of Tony’s best friend, William, a high-camp disco queen who seems to find fulfilment in a determined hedonism. But the action really begins with the appearance of Robert, a resting but ambitious actor, whom Tony hires as a cleaner and occasional cook. His presence, whether wielding a hoover, or laying on a dinner party, turns out to be unexpectedly disruptive for all concerned.

There are many different challenges for the actors. By some distance, Tony is the most demanding role. Yannick Budd has to quietly unravel during the action, moving from domestic and professional security through to a loss of all his certainties where his painful lack of agency is revealed. Budd is adept in displaying the painful contrast between the character’s inherent generosity of heart and the tart and snappy retorts of a wounded man. However, the steep challenge of the climactic confrontation eludes him, where his anger comes over more as a hissy fit than as a primal scream of pain. Playing opposite him, Alexander Hulme does as much as anyone can with the somewhat underwritten part of laconic American academic, Greg. His motivations are hard to read from the text, but Hulme demonstrates well the extent of the character’s complacency and entitlement, together with a desire to keep all his options open.

The supporting roles are delightfully played. Sam Goodchild makes William the centre of attention whenever he is on stage. The first scene spins past thanks to the brio of his performance and the breezy wit of the writing. But he also can turn the mood in a darker direction with real technical skill, and the scene in which he recounts a brutal encounter with rough trade is the most moving of the evening. Likewise, Theo Walker finds more depth than you might expect in the part of Robert. There is a precise element of calculation present alongside the fluffy, pretty-boy appeal, which makes the actions of his character fully legible and his ultimate professional success very plausible.

Andrew Beckett’s direction is sensitive to the musical qualities of Elyot’s writing, with each scene needing and mostly receiving variety of pacing and emphasis. Yet there were times in the second half when I felt the pacing and energy flagged. The darker themes do not need to be played adagio, and in fact are often more affecting within a brisk tempo. The production asa whole does not fully eclipse memories of the last time I saw this play at Trafalgar Studios; but it is a worthy revival of a play that deserves to be better known and performed more often.

A final shout-out to the Turbine Theatre itself. With the sad demise of ‘Above the Stag’ in Vauxhall, this theatre in Battersea has taken over the go-to venue for gay theatre. Similarly making the most of a single railway arch, it is a singularly welcoming, cheerful and well-designed space with front-of-house staff who are both charming and efficient. Would that the West End were the same!,


Kevin Elyot

Turbine Theatre

Director; Andrew Beckett

Cast: Yannick Budd, Sam Goodchild, Alexander Hulme, Theo Walker

Photocredit: Mark Senior

Until 20 April 2024

2 hrs with interval