I started 1982 as an avid film fan who looked at the theatre as something of a planetarium - a place to stare at stars - I ended it as an obsessed theatre-lover thanks to Ian Charleson. First there was the joy of seeing him and Vanessa Redgrave in two Sunday afternoon benefits for the SWP Youth Training Centres and finally, after months of trying, seeing him, Julie Covington, Julia Mckenzie and Bob Hoskins in GUYS AND DOLLS. Film just couldn't offer as exciting as that.
It was a big theatre year for Kevin Elyot too. Elyot had been an actor with the Gay Sweatshop theatre company and had played the Bush and King's Head Theatres with them. In 1981 he submitted his first play called COSY to the Bush where it opened the following year with the title changed to COMING CLEAN and it went on to win the first Samuel Beckett Award for excellence.
This year, three years after his death, we have seen the odd symmetry of his first and last plays being revived: Park Theatre gave us the slight TWILIGHT SONG written at the end of his life and now we have the King's Head - where he acted all those years ago - staging that first play as part of a short season of productions to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality - but how well does it stand up? See, Elyot isn't the only one to deal in innuendo!
It was fascinating to see small beginnings in this debut play of themes which would be developed in his later plays, most importantly, the secrets that can fester in friendships and love affairs. One can confidently say that none of Elyot's main characters would know all the words to "Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay" and his jaundiced view of them rarely leaves room for sympathetic writing. But that is one reason why I like his writing: there was no pandering to his obvious audience, especially as the years when he was most active saw a more celebratory feel to gay writing, albeit in the shadow of the HIV virus.
Set over the summer months of 1982, COMING CLEAN is set in the cramped living room of Greg and Tony, two 30-somethings who live in the Elyot stamping ground of central North London. New Yorker Greg is the couple's breadwinner as a University lecturer which allows Tony to concentrate on his writing. Much to the hilarity of Tony's old friend William - who hangs around the flat chatting about his latest sexual shenanigans and eating pastry - the couple have hired a cleaner, a young out-of-work actor called Robert.
Tony and Greg have been together for five years and have agreed that they can have partners on the side but only as one-night stands: twice would be betrayal. So it's no surprise that Tony is shocked to discover after four months that Greg and Robert have been having an affair behind his back. It's an interesting play, the bitchy gay comedy that starts the play settles you into thinking that you know how the play will go but especially in the second act the mood changes to one of genuine pain as Tony confronts Greg with his infidelity which has now shattered their agreement.
The scene that follows brings the play to an uneasy conclusion - Greg has left for New York - the holiday they were supposed to take together - and Tony has picked up a German leather queen in a disco. Their love-making is awkward and stilted but when they stop trying to communicate, Tony can finally relax. Maybe after University lecturer Greg, Tony can forget the importance of words...
The stage was dominated by a large red leather couch which was in keeping with the era but was resolutely ugly and the design seemed particularly crashingly odd - Greg and Tony don't need a cleaner, they need an interior designer. Adam Spreadbury-Maher did a good job at directing the slowly darkening atmosphere of the play and there was a stand-out supporting performance from Elliot Hadley as the outrageous best friend William although his popping up as Jurgen the German in the last scene was a distraction.
I also grew to like Lee Knight's jittery Tony, his playing of the confrontation scene was nicely layered, but the production was let down by Tom Lambert's two-dimensional performance as the calculating Robert and the shockingly one-note performance of Jason Nwoga as Greg: a charmless performance which did nothing to explain or develop his character.
I am glad I got to see the production as it was interesting to see the springboard for Kevin Elyot's writing which found it's true peak with the shattering MY NIGHT WITH REG, but now someone has to revive his three post-REG plays: THE DAY I STOOD STILL and MOUTH TO MOUTH in which he exploits the playing with time he successfully managed in REG and his family drama FORTY WINKS. It's good to see where a writer started and ended but we must also celebrate the career peaks too.
The King's Head poster design is also alarmingly misleading... there is no sloppy milk-drinking in the production, let alone buff lads.